Freed for Freedom
In this election year, it’s fruitful to ask, “What’s the common complaint resounding in the anti-capitalist populism of Bernie Sanders, the isolationist and mercantilist rhetoric of Donald Trump, and the hot rage of the Black Lives Matter movement?
Each calls upon the nation to eradicate some particular evil plaguing their constituencies. Underlying their rage is the common premise that freedom is rightly the criterion by which we the people evaluate those we empower to lead. Each, from its unique perspective of the public square, indicts our government for failing to protect the freedoms from want and fear that Franklin Roosevelt named as part of our social contract.
But if freedom is the plumb line for our politics, how do we recognize it?
To learn about freedom, I reach for the Bible, for ours is a story of freedom. Remembering a few greatest hits will suffice.
The first, treasured by all three Abrahamic faiths, is a collage: a people toiling in slavery, destined for bricks by Pharaoh’s pleasure (Ex 1:11–14); a babe adrift in the Nile in a reed ark (Ex 2:1–10); confrontation, led by the babe, now fully grown and re-named Moses (Ex 5–12); deliverance, with Pharoah’s chariots washed away by the waters (Ex 14); a people lost and afraid in the wilderness, wandering (Nu 11); deliverance, with joyful entry into the promised land flowing with milk and honey (Dt 4).
Centuries later, a prophet on the mountaintop, trumpeting the good news of deliverance to the descendants, once more lost and exiled in Babylon: “Comfort, comfort my people! says your God….In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD…” (Is 40:1–5).
Still later, another babe. Fully mature, he delivers a man from demonic possession (Mk 1:21–28), a woman from sickness (Mk 1:29–34), a man from the social exile of the leper’s lot (Mk 1:40–45), a people from their pharisaic blindness (Lk 15:11–32), a world from the false peace of the Roman cult of war (John 20:19–23).
Reflecting on all this, Paul: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1).
There are those who define freedom as the ability to make choices without interference. Later in this series of posts, I’ll suggest why that conception presents problems. For now, let’s simply notice its contrast with the biblical portrait of freedom, which is something much more profound than mere non-interference. Freedom is bought with acts of deliverance.
Deliverance from what? From concrete things like slavery, captivity, disease, and social exile. But deliverance also from possession, which is something those who suffer from addiction understand. And also deliverance from ideologies of alienation that distract us from the journey towards reconciled humanity, which is how our story ends, and towards which our lives are to point. We are delivered from that which impedes our way to the banquet.
Biblically, freedom is deliverance from domination of any kind so that we might choose the fullness of friendship with God and each other.
If “freedom as non-domination” is the plumb line of our politics, how are we doing?
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