Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Freedom is scary, Part 2

In my previous post, I posited the opinion that there is something deep inside human nature that is somewhat afraid of freedom. And this is one of the reasons, unspoken and possibly unconscious, why many people cannot or will not come to grips with the claims of orthodox (small O) Christianity.

Part of this may be that there is an innate lust for power over others, that flows as an undercurrent in most human relationships. In religious circles, this often manifests as legalism and pressure from the group on individuals to conform, to be "good Christians". The idea here is that Christian freedom, is simply freedom from the wages of sin, and nothing more. The law is still in full force - just some specific provisions may have changed.

Alternatively, freedom often gets mistaken for licentiousness, which in its basic form, is essentially enslaving oneself to ones own passions. Christ's death paid for my sins, so now I am free to do what I want, so I will. And in many cases, these two extremes play off each other. The licentious son rebels against the restrictions of the legalistic father, and the legalistic mother recoils against the chaos of her licentious daughter.

However, neither of these extremes reflect the freedom for which Christ died.
For the religious legalist, the idea that Christ's death fulfilled the Laws requirements, while not abrogating the Law, is anathema. The expectation is that therefore the Christian life is still a series of dos and don'ts. Not the same ones, but requirements all the same.
Likewise for the licentious person, Christ's death covers all, so the idea that there should be any guidelines for behavior is also anathema.

So, since Freedom, in the Christian sense, is neither legalism, exchanging one master for another, and it is not anything goes, but has guidelines, what can we conclude?

Paul faced a similar idea when he addressed the Corinthian church on the topic of eating meat addressed to idols. In effect, he said let it be as you think best. He did not add a dietary law, so he did not push a legalistic approach, telling the Corinthians they were not allowed to eat this meat. However neither did he instruct the believers who had no qualms with eating the meat to just go willy nilly eating this meat, regardless of the feelings and perceptions of the other believers.

In other words, Paul taught what I believe is the core of freedom. What Paul offered was the idea, that we could voluntarily abstain from exercising our freedom, out of love and respect for where others were in their understanding of Christ's sacrifice, and his Grace that he offered in that sacrifice. If the others had a legitimate conscience problem with eating meat sacrificed to idols, those that didn't were encouraged to allow the other party the freedom to not have their consciences violated. And at the same time, those that had objections to the practice of eating meat, were encouraged to allow those that had no problem the freedom to do so, without adding conditions.

As a believer in Christ, we are free from the wages of our sins. But I believe there is more, much more, to freedom than a one time pardon. We are also set on the road to freedom as well. We are free from the need and desire to rule over others, whether in a one on one relationship, and in larger groups. We are set free from the need to try to earn our way into heaven by following one set of rules, or a different set. And we are free to fail at any thing, and still be forgiven. Not only forgiven by Christ, but free to forgive one another, as we all wait for the Day when we will be free from the pains of this world, and freed into the joys of the next one.