Christian Freedom (or why can’t I do _____?)

“So, if the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” – John 8:36

What is freedom? The dictionary defines it somewhere along the lines of being able to act, speak or think without any external restrictions. Or, quite simply, being able to do whatever you want without anyone stopping you. And that sounds like a correct definition. That’s what we mean when we use the word freedom. Is it not?

The bible tells us, “If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” and that sparks a question in my mind. Why is it written like this? What does the phrase “free indeed” mean? Is there some hidden meaning behind those words? Does it mean that when we think we are free, we are not really free unless the Son sets us free?

We’ll get into the meaning of “free indeed” later. However, for now, let’s assume that there is a special kind of freedom that only the Son, Jesus, can give us. So, if a person is a christian, if he really follows Christ, he must be “really free”. Correct? Well, it seems that’s what the bible is telling us.

It was one fine evening in an ICPF cell group when I was asked the question, “Is going to movies wrong?” The boy who asked the question was the youngest among us on that day. I can’t conjure up the exact chain of events that led to this question, but I can imagine the general state of his mind because it is common. Someone must have told him that going to movies is wrong. Maybe his parents had restricted him to go watch a certain movie with his friends.

Is going to movies wrong? Should a christian listen to secular music? These, and many more questions plague the minds of young Christians in schools and colleges. Having grown up in a traditional christian environment, there’s always some people who say that these things are wrong. “A christian shouldn’t watch movies.” “A christian shouldn’t listen to secular music.” “A christian shouldn’t go to parties” They can be parents, seniors or even pastors. And whoever they are, most of the times, they are very vocal about their beliefs.

“If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” “If you are a christian, you can’t ….” Is there a contradiction? It certainly seems like it. The bible seems to be promising a freedom, a special freedom, a greater freedom, a higher freedom to those whom the Son, Jesus, sets free. Yet, it seems that those who are given this freedom, those who call themselves christian, are actually less free that those who surround them. Less free, than the world.

How can it be? How can the divine freedom be less than what the world offers? Let us understand the meaning of that freedom that Christ gives us. It is indeed a greater freedom. But maybe it can better be described as “true freedom”. The freedom that Son gives, is the freedom to live. He liberates us from the yoke and slavery of sin. By destroying the hold of sin in our lives he makes us free to become what we were meant to be. The image of living God. When the Son sets you free, you are indeed free. Because he gives you a freedom that destroying the death marches on to resurrection. Marches on, to an everlasting life.

The freedom of the world is not freedom. It’s a deception. Because, for a moment, it may seem like that a worldly person is free to do whatever he wants, but the things that he does, will come to haunt him in future. For the devil is cunning and allures man and women with many enticements. It may seem like all is going well, until the man, to his horror, finds that he is trapped in a maze of madness that the devil has been laying all along his way. When he thought he was free, and entered a door by practicing his freedom, soon after, when he wanted to get out, he found the door locked. Addictions, heartbreak, depression, despair, restlessness and sleepless nights await him. The fires of hell, the black, lightless, infernal fires of hell await him. Unless, the Son sets him free.

So, Is going to movies wrong? Certainly not. Can a christian go to watch movies? Of course. Well then, why do parents, seniors or christian leaders restrict the youngsters from such activities? Because, one, they are right in many cases. Many movies of our generation aren’t worth a watch. They only corrupt the mind. However, there’s a second reason. It’s that they are worried. Worried that their children will fall on a wrong road. That bad company of friends will turn them bad as well. But why, I wonder, do the parents never think that the good in my child, will rub off on those around him and maybe one day, might even save them? Does not the bible say, “Greater is He in me, than the one in the world.”?

But, there’s yet another aspect of this christian freedom that is as mystical as the way of the wind. Maybe the best metaphor to describe it, is gravity. It is the weakest of all four fundamental forces of physics, yet strong enough to bind the cosmos. Like gravity, whomever the Son sets free, that person feels a gentle draw of gravity towards him. An attraction that in inexplicable and inescapable. It is because of this pull, that even though I have freedom to listen to any music that I want, I listen mostly “Christian Music” as commonly defined. Because, in there, I find a better song than the one that the world sings.

So, what are we to do in these matters? It seems to me that any external restraint or discipline will work only till a certain age and till a certain level. Beyond that, either the youngster will learn self-restraint or he/she will give in to the pull of the world. But before that time comes, a youth must understand the words of Paul: “You say: I am allowed to do anything – but not everything is good for you. And even though, I am allowed to do anything, I must not become a slave to anything.” – 1 Cor 6:12

The Truth has set me Free

I have often wondered what is the meaning of the following bible verse:

John 8:32: and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (ESV)

It seemed a very strange preposition. Know the truth, and the truth will set you free. If truth were a physical object, like a sword, I would have thought, it means, learn using the sword, and it will set you free. However, I thought, truth is just an abstract concept of mind. It has nothing to do with physical reality. So, it never did really register into my mind like it should. However, after I wrote about freedom here, I’ve been thinking of the subject more and more. The more I thought about it, the more I became amazed at it, for it became ever more stranger, it took a familiar and yet outlandish shape in my mind. And now, I feel inclined to express into words what is inexpressible.

Before we go on,I want to make it clear that, I won’t be discussing what truth exactly is because pretty much everybody understands it and it is so vast a subject that if I were to write about it, it would contain a large number of things that are obvious and the things that are not so obvious will most probably elude me. So, I am going to assume here that everybody knows the nature and concept of truth.

The Search

Now, let us begin. People everywhere regard truth very highly. Winston Churchill said that in wartime, it is so precious that it should be guarded with bodyguard of lies. That is certainly true, however, it shows how precious the truth is. Because it is regarded so very highly, men everywhere seek it. All the fields of human knowledge are trying to get to the truth. However, there are some basic questions for which everyone needs an answer for.

Everybody does not need to know if the earth revolves around the sun or the moon. But everyone needs to answer a question that has haunted humanity over the centuries more than any other question. It is also the question, by which the fate of humanity will be decided. The question is, what does it mean to be human? Great thinkers of the time gone by has tried to answer the question in different way. But these different theories and philosophies have only added more grass in the haystack and done very little to point men to the needle of truth. So, the question is still burning with the same intensity as ever. But that’s apparent, considering the nature of the question.

Because, the question is about life itself. It’s not about something outside of us and not even inside of us. It’s about us. Since its about us, every one of us asks the question. Everyone goes on to look for the needle in the haystack. After some searching, some say, there is no needle, others mistake a piece of grass for a needle, some get so fascinated with the grass they forget altogether about the needle, and very few find it. However, everybody searches for it.

The Journey

Great many people has compared life with a journey. Let me compare the search for truth with a journey. Because, I think, in some sense, a life is a search for truth. I think humankind once had the truth but lost it, and thus, now we search for what we once had, the thing most precious to us. There is one another way in which the search for truth resembles a journey. That is the swift beauty of it’s end. At least it seems that way to me. Because, I am often caught by the sudden surprise of it’s end and in this sudden and sweet surprise, I sometimes behold the grand photograph of the whole and suddenly realize that the whole is even more beautiful than it’s parts. For, when a journey is not over, one can not look at the whole for the sole reason of it not being whole. But when it’s over, it somehow becomes grander.

Truth also has a similar characteristic. Because for truth to be really true, it must be complete. For, if truth is not complete, it has certain gaps in it’s volume where lies can creep in. And the greatest of lies are that which contain half truths. The greater the ratio of truth:lie in any claim, the greater is it’s potential to devastate it’s believer. That is exactly why truth must be complete. Half truths are easy to twist for one’s pleasure. Twisted truths lead to a twisted end. That is why when a man searches for truth, he must find the whole truth, because if it’s not the whole truth, like the journey, he can not have the pleasure of appreciating the whole picture. For the picture is still being drawn. What’s more, if such a half drawn picture is corrupted by a lie, then instead of illuminating the mind it will only darken the conscious.

And such is the common knowledge of men. That’s why they search for the whole truth. However, the search is indeed difficult. For everyone has a say in it. For their own self, everybody goes on looking for it, and thus, everybody, whatever they found tell it to others. Which makes it almost impossible to go on searching for it. For, one man says go to the left, other, says right. And In this bewilderment I once found myself. Scaling through the highs and lows of human understanding, I looked for truth, which I thought was unperceivable.

The Chains

As I was searching for truth, frantically looking about, trying to catch the thing at the very first glace of it, which I thought to be non material. And suddenly, I realized, that all the while, when I was running around everywhere, in every direction, looking for truth, I was actually bound with chains that I dragged everywhere I went. Then, even stranger thing happened, for it dawned on me that when I was looking I had my eyes closed, when I ran, I didn’t move an inch, the places to which I dragged the chains were actually nowhere. The chains were only the lingering thoughts that haunted me. For, I was pacing the labyrinthine ways of my own mind and to my dismay, I hadn’t found the truth.

I continued on my search for truth. Dragging the chains up the mountains and through the valleys. But it seemed like everyday, there was a new link added into the chains. Even stranger was the mild suggestion that the chains were interlocking, one with other. Nevertheless, I continued. Until one day, when the burden of chains had became so heavy that I wasn’t able to move on, I stopped and looked around. I was petrified. For, it wasn’t the weight of the chains that were stopping me from moving on, rather, chains were all around me and I was trapped in my own thoughts like a butterfly in a spider’s web. I tried to figure out a way out of the mess, but it only trapped me further. For indeed, these were the chains of thought. For a moment, I wished that these were iron chains. Because then, it would be easier to get out.

The Truth

There in my darkest hour, I understood what the bible meant. “Know the truth, and the truth will set you free”. I had found out that the chains of thought were much more ravaging than their physical counterpart. I had also came to the conclusion that if only I had truth, I can break all the chains that rendered me paralyzed. Then, in my heart, I desired for truth more than anything else. I prayed and asked for the truth.

Then, the strangest thing happened. Suddenly, the darkness around me was running away like a frightened deer, away from the predator. I raised my head, and I saw a strange figure coming towards me. In shape, he resembled a man. Yet, something about him told me that he was more than a man. There was eternal calm on his face that gave my troubled heart peace. Yet, the fierceness in his eyes pierced me with one glance. Slowly and steadily, with an unhurried walk, he was coming towards me. Just as I was going to ask him, “Who are you?”, I suddenly realized that with every step he took, the chains that I had tried so hard to get out of, were falling away, one by one hurriedly, as if they were running away, trying to hide in the darkness, away from this strange figure. He came near me and said, “I am Truth”.

Oh, and as I struggle to express in words which is inexpressible, I am reminded of that fateful night, when I was liberated from the chains that I had so willingly bound myself with. Now that I try to comprehend the miracle in my life, I am dumbfounded by the sheer asymmetry of my actions that night. For, on the night that I was freed, and when unspeakable joy had filled my heart, it made perfect sense that I should cry. When I thought that I was in the darkest phase in my life, looking around trying to make sense of my world, he came into my world and that was enough. For his light illuminated every dark corner of my labyrinthine mind. Now everything made sense, just because he was with me.

How can I ever aptly describe the Truth. For the truth had turned out to be everything that I thought it was not. I thought it to be an abstract concept of mind. He turned out to be the desire of my heart. I thought it to be non material, yet with open arms he gave me a hug. I thought it to be a merciless, brute fact, unsympathetic towards the people who searched for it so willingly, yet, I found even he had a heart. So, as I end this essay, I am again reminded of him about whom this essay is. With gentle tone, he is calling me, and I run to his embrace.


Commentary

Oh yes! I’m gonna give commentary to the essay that I have written! Partly because, I wanted to try out a different writing style, and because it is new, and a bit poetic, you might miss the one of the points that I want to make here and partly because I want to.

So, here we go:

The Search:

I have pictured the search for truth as searching a needle in a haystack. The first two paragraphs are obvious, because they are written in plain language. However, in the last paragraph I have given 4 different cases. Let me explain what I mean by each one.

  1. The people who say that there is no needle are those who say that there is no ultimate or objective truth. However, there is no truth out there.
  2. The people who mistake a piece of grass for a needle is, those who have done exactly that. They have taken a different philosophy of life then the one which is really true.
  3. The people who are fascinated with the grass are those who are lost in the world. They can be classified as hedonists.
  4. Fourth, those who really find the truth.

The Journey:

First I have compared a journey with the truth. There weren’t very many things are going on in the back of mind when I wrote that. The similarities are pretty obvious. However, there is one thing that I haven’t wrote there literally, but if you really think about it and dwell on it, you will grasp it. Coupling the journey section with the truth section makes it even more obvious. Nevertheless, if you can’t come to the conclusion on your own, I’ll say it here.

The whole truth has a great power. It is that before it, no lie can stand. In half truth, a lie can even disguise as truth. However, that can not happen when you have the whole truth. It’s authority is absolute and it’s abilities infinite.

The Chains:

First, my original conception was that the truth was non material, and yet I was trying to catch it. The chains are my thoughts, as it is stated in the essay, and they are accumulating. Because, all of them are half truths. Because they are half truths, I can not throw them away because the thought that I throw away may be the original truth. However, I also can not eliminate those other than the original truth because, I don’t have the original truth whole. And thus, it looks same as any other.

Then, the sudden realization that I’m not moving an inch when I’m running. This is the core point of this essay. For when there are unanswered questions in your mind you can not really focus on anything else. At least, I can not. Because you can not focus on anything, you can not do anything effectively. So, when you are in confusion or in depression trying to make sense of the world around you, all your physical activities also become constrained. That’s what I meant when I said, I wished that they were iron chains. Because, iron chains only bond the body, they leave the mind to wander anywhere it wishes. However, the chains of thought bind both.

The Truth:

The last section I think speaks for itself. So, I wouldn’t want to say anything that degrades the section from the level it is at. Seems to me, that anything I say will do exactly that. So, instead of saying anything here, I’d suggest that you read it again!

A study about freedom

For past few weeks, I have been pondering upon the subject of freedom. I have been asking myself different questions about it. And through this questions I have learned a great deal about freedom(at least, I like to think so). I have found some things that are absolutely astounding. So, in this post I’d like to tell you what I have learned.

In this study of freedom, I’d like to present to you six different topics. The topics that I will be presenting are not very hard to understand. In fact, in our daily lives, we deal with each one of these topics. However, for this particular post, we’ll see how these topics are related to freedom. Pay close attention, because they are integral in understanding the nature of freedom. So, without further delay, let’s begin.

  1. Pleasure
  2. Time span
  3. Dominion
  4. Will
  5. Allowance
  6. The Law

As you can see, this is not rocket science. So, let’s look at each one briefly.

First, pleasure. We all know what pleasure is. Dictionary defines it as “the state of feeling of being pleased”. You feel pleased when things happen as you’d like them to happen. Everyone loves being pleased. Everyone loves pleasures. But we are talking about freedom today. So the question arises, what does pleasure have to do with freedom? Well, let me ask you another question. Why do you want freedom? Is it not because you would like to do as you please? So, freedom is the means to the end that is pleasure. That’s how freedom and pleasure are related.

Now let’s move on to the next one. Time span. We know what time span means. Immediate, short term, long term and other such phrases that describe the amount of time. The point I’d like to make here is this: The freedom to do something and then stop doing it must be long term and not only immediate. What do I mean by it? It’d be better to look at an example. Smoking. In the beginning you are free to choose if you want to smoke or not. However, the more and more you smoke, more and more you become addicted to it. At the same time it destroys your lungs. So once you are addicted, if you want to stop, you can’t just stop on a whim. After you are addicted it’s not about just a choice. It takes much more than a choice to quit smoking. So, basically we can say that you are no longer free. So time span is very important. Any activity that harms you can not be called “free”. But that leads us to the next topic. Which is dominion.

Dominion is the power or the ability to control or dominate someone. A power that comes by dominating the subject. By force. A person under dominion of any power is no longer free. Dominion is the end of freedom. For our example about smoking, the person might want to quit smoking but because he is addicted to it, he can not quit it just like that. He needs to go to some rehab or needs to have more pills or needs to have a very strong will power to quit smoking. He needs to fight to overcome his addiction. He has lost his freedom. So, any kind of “freedom” that leads to dominion can not be real freedom, but only an illusion.

Let’s move on to the next topic. When we were talking about dominion, I used the concept of “will power”. We know what it is. “Will” can be described as a “wish” or “ambition”. When someone says “I will do it.” It means that the person who is saying, “I will” desires to “do it”(whatever “it” may be). He/she is expressing his/hers personal preference towards the action which is “it”. So how does the will relate to freedom? Well, in the “real” world, there are certain things that are “willed” or “desired” by more than one person. There are conflicts of will.

For example, suppose you have two kids. They both love eating cakes. So one day, you buy some cakes from a nearby bakery and go home. Everyone in your family eats some cakes. Especially your kids. However, now you are in a situation where there is only one cake in the box but both of your kids want it. They both will to eat the cake. What can be the solution here? Either one of them gives up the cake or both of them eat half of the cake or you can go and buy more cakes. But both of them can not eat the same cake whole. Conflicts like that happen every day. My point is, when the conflict is resolved, is the “will” being overridden forcefully by someone else? If so, the person’s freedom is taken away and is being dominated by someone else. That’s what dominion is all about.

Conflicts of will are as real as you are reading this. Until we have infinite resources, we can not avoid these conflicts. We must resolve them. How can we resolve such conflict without taking away one’s freedom? I present my answer to you in the next topic.

The solution is allowance. If I may be so bold, let me say, allowance is the source of freedom. Without someone(including yourself) allows you to do something, you are not free to do it. One may allow oneself or the other to do something. For our example, where two kids are fighting for the last piece of the cake, suppose that the older one gives up on the cake because the younger one has started crying for it. The older one allows the younger one to have the cake because for him, the happiness of his younger sibling is much more important than him eating the whole cake. So, the freedom of the younger one to do as he pleases is granted to him by the older one. So then, let’s move on to the final topic.

The law. The law is a collection of rules for a certain community or society. It is a list of thing that one is allowed to do. Only on a much bigger scale than we dealt with in the previous topic. Maybe the relationship between allowance and law is like the relationship of a bee to the beehive. A single kid out of love to his younger brother allow him to have the whole cake. However, when bigger kids(widely known as “adults”) fight, who is going to resolve the conflict? Surely, both of them are not going to get what they were fighting for(if both of them could get it, they wouldn’t be fighting. Would they?). However, somebody’s freedom shouldn’t be compromised unjustly. That is the function of the law in the society. We might say, the law is the guardian of the freedom.

You may ask, doesn’t the law restrict us from doing some things? If it restricts, how can it be the guardian of freedom which means free from restrictions? My answer is this: because we do not have infinite resources, there will be conflicts of will. To resolve these conflicts, someone must be restricted. The function of the law is to make sure that the wrong person is not restricted. For example, a thief likes your new bike and wants to make it his own. So here, if you don’t have the law to restrict the thief from stealing, then when the thief steals your bike you have no claim over your bike. Just because he want it and have aquired it by stealing it, without law, it is his. But we do not live in a world without a law. That is why, everyone who follows the law is free. However whoever breaks the law comes under judgment and is no longer free until he has paid the price of breaking the law.

Here, I’d like to make one more point. When I say, the law is the guardian of the freedom, I mean it. Literally. If you do not have the law, freedom can not exist. Think for a second. If you remove every single law or restriction then would you be able to give any definition to freedom? Wouldn’t freedom be meaningless? So, the law not only guards the freedom, it also defines it. As strange it sounds, that’s the conclusion I have reached in my study of freedom. But this is not over yet!

Let’s summarize the main points of each topic.

  1. Freedom is the means to the end that is pleasure.
  2. The freedom to do something and then stop doing it for a good reason must be long term and not immediate.
  3. Any kind of freedom that leads to dominion must not be real freedom, but only an illusion.
  4. Conflicts of will must be resolved in a manner that preserves the freedom of the individuals.
  5. Allowance is the source of freedom.
  6. The law :
    • The law is the guardian of freedom.
    • Everyone who follows the law is free. However, whoever breaks the law comes under judgment and not free until he has paid the price of breaking the law.
    • The law not only guards the freedom. It also defines it.

So, that’s what I understand about freedom. That’s what I think freedom is all about. Now that we have understood how the machine called freedom works, let’s see what we can do with it.

We as humans find ourselves in possession of free will. As we saw, allowance is the source of freedom. So, there must be someone who has allowed us to be free. However, even more mind boggling is the idea that behind this gift of freedom there must be a purpose.

Just as the elder brother gave the cake to the younger one for his pleasure, and in his younger brother’s joy he found his own pleasure, the one who gave us this freedom must, in some way, be pleased with his gift to us. So what can we do with this freedom?

There are only two things we can do with this cake called freedom. Either eat it, or you throw it away. We can either give it up for just an illusion of freedom or you can keep it safe with you and enjoy it. When I read the bible, I find it so amazing that the same God who created the heavens and the earth and the whole physical realm, also gave me freedom to explore it. The God of the bible is a spirit. He did not need to create all the different galaxies and the rainbow colored stars. He created all those beautiful things just for his creation who were going to dwell in the physical realm. He could have created just the earth and the sun and the moon and it would have been sufficient.

But whatever he does, he never does a mediocre job. Whatever he does, it is extraordinary. It is excellent. It is brilliant. Just like that older brother has pleasure out of the joy of the his younger sibling eating the cake, it seems to me that when we explore this world, and when we get awe-struck by the beauty and the intricate design of things and say “wow”, somewhere he is watching. He is smiling. That leads me to conclude that the greatest of the freedoms that he gave us is the freedom to worship him.