By Daniel Bramlett
I love free things. When I was in college free stuff abounded. My friends and I made money each semester collecting things other students threw away and selling them the next semester. My house is filled with things I’ve found over the years. In this sense of the word ‘free’ a person can pick up and use an item however and whenever they choose. There is another sense of the word that comes into play when we talk about people. I’ll use the word ‘liberty’ to encapsulate this meaning. Free has never meant “I can do whatever I want whenever I wish.” That’s lawlessness. The freedom we enjoy in the USA is a liberty that comes with boundaries. It is freedom with respect. I do not believe the current cultural tide understands this.
I explain this apparent phenomenon to students like this. Suppose all traffic laws were erased from the books. You were allowed to do anything you wanted once you entered the streets in your vehicle. No stop lights or signs. No rules about double or single lines. No speed limits. Just drive however you want and hope for the best! Is this freedom? No way! This description is lunacy. Good boundaries give us the freedom we long for. Boundaries protect us from us.
The Bible is filled with expressions of this idea. The Old Testament is based on what we call “The Law”, the basis of which guides the Hebrew people through every aspect of daily life. It covers ceremonial, judicial and civil law and offers the people what is arguably the most freeing lifestyle available in the ancient world. Never was the Law designed to stifle life, strangle them politically or prevent ‘fun’. In every instance the OT Law was given by God to promote life, offer wider and better political and judicial realms and provide tremendous amounts of joy. Again and again we hear the writers say what the 119th Psalm proclaims, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments for I delight in it.” (vs. 33-35)
We all know the human heart loves rebellion. We love to break the rules. We relish what we call freedom from the boundaries that are meant for our good. The Gospel pulls us back to a place of obedience, not for authoritarian’s sake but for our joy. We like to talk about freedom without rules until someone else’s practice infringes on our fun. Then we want a rule to enact ‘justice’ against the one who ‘hates us’. Freedom doesn’t work like this. Either we all abide by the same rules or we all vote to change the rules. The other options are not nearly as pretty.
I dare say the culture that is clamoring for a release from democracy would not crave a dictatorship (unless they could themselves serve as the leader) or socialism (the idea of government that says a few people can choose what is best for the masses). How quickly we forget these failed experiments from our past. The answer to our problems is not a radical reformation of our current form of government. The only workable solution to our current political impasse is a good old fashioned “love your neighbor as yourself” movement.
I cringe every time I hear someone say “This is what _____ means to me.” This is the catchphrase of our culture. My response is I really don’t care what democracy or freedom or capitalism or truth or love…means to you. If I did I would read your book or scroll through your Facebook page or read your tweets. Each of these ideas have been defined by years of practice and failure. They do not rest on your feelings and do not change because of your experiences. Freedom has never been about you doing whatever you want, whenever you wish, to whomever you desire. Freedom has boundaries. Liberty is defined by restraint.
Instead of clamoring for attention and the ever elusive change, listen to some time honored truth. “Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to selfish gain. Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things and give me life in your ways. Confirm to your servant your promise that you may be feared. Turn away the reproach that I dread for your rules are good. Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!” (Psalm 119.36-40)