Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Unbearable Challenge of Freedom

We may readily affirm that Jesus Christ is the truth who sets us free to love and leads us into fullness of life. So we may readily affirm that freedom is one essential aspect of our core identity as truly human beings; or, again, of the core identity of our Christian personality.

Sadly, each one of us humans still has two distinct and opposing personalities: one Olympian, structured in terms of the false Olympian gods; and one Christian, structured in terms of Jesus. Worse, our thoroughly Olympian society and culture greatly strengthen our Olympian personality at the expense of our Christian one.

Living with an Olympian personality in an Olympian society and culture makes affirming our Christian identity difficult. Affirming freedom becomes a daily challenge and often an unbearable one.

To be clear, we are speaking of freedom as freedom from the Olympian gods and the enticements, threats, and necessities they impose upon us through their minions and means. We are also speaking of freedom as freedom for Jesus, other humans, and the rest of creation made possible by his grace alone.

Yahweh revealed himself as the one odd god of freedom by liberating his people Israel from their slavery in Egypt. A month after their liberation, however, they were ready to head back. That’s how unbearable freedom as a way of living is.

1The whole Israelite community set out from Elim, and on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had left Egypt, they came to the desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai. There in the desert they all complained to Moses and Aaron and said to them, “We wish that [Yahweh] had killed us in Egypt. There we could at least sit down and eat meat and as much other food as we wanted. But you have brought us out into this desert to starve us all to death” (Exodus 16:1-3, Good News Translation).

When the devil tempted Jesus to turn a stone into a loaf of bread (Luke 4:1-4), Jesus affirmed his freedom for Abba, his father and ours, by quoting the Bible where it said that we humans live primarily by hearing and doing Abba’s words. The Israelites affirmed their false freedom from Yahweh by wanting to get back to the good food they wrongly imagined they had left behind in Egypt. They preferred slavery with a steady diet to freedom with the steady need to rely daily on that odd and invisible god of theirs.

Their life in the wilderness provided them with the opportunity to affirm freedom as a way of living. But this way of living presented numerous risks with no guarantees of success. Reaching the Promised Land was a noble goal but it would be reached—if at all—only after a long time filled with many heartaches. How much more reasonable life back in Egypt seemed in contrast.

Like the Pharisees, we Christians profess to know what freedom means but justify freedom from Jesus in favor of the security, happiness, and status promised us by the Olympian gods we unwittingly devote ourselves to. When we do witness to freedom, when we actually do question the gods of politics, war, technology, sex, money, and consumption in the name of Jesus, then the gods—through our Olympian brothers, sisters, and neighbors—quickly punish us with ridicule, rage, shunning, or worse. Conforming seems a much more reasonable approach.

Our Olympian rulers routinely invoke freedom as the goal for imposing yet another Olympian means of controlling us. In contrast, freedom for Jesus, that unbearable challenge without his grace, is our daily-renewed affirmation that he alone is our savior and freedom for him, others, and all creation is the meaning of life.

(Today’s reflections are based on the excellent book, The Ethics of Freedom, by Jacques Ellul [translated by Geoffrey Bromiley, published by Eerdmans, pp. 91-94]).

Copyright © 2015 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.