My friend’s mom died recently. In her late 80’s she’d been a nursing home for 44 months. Another friend celebrates today (how macabre!) the five year anniversary of her dad being medevac’d to the hospital on he eve of his birthday. The hospital he ended up dying in months later. Others I know are dealing with the death of their adult son. Two lifelong friends of my parents are entering the long good-bye, as Alzheimer’s has been called. And several younger friends are wrestling with mental illness. Someone else I know is dealing with a supervisor who is a minion of Satan (OK, that may be harsh, but you get my point). All love Jesus dearly.
In the midst of this hear the echo Paul’s words to the Galatians.
It is for freedom you have been set free.
Is this a cosmic joke? Or worse, an empty promise? Do their lives ring of freedom?
Are we believers just fooling ourselves?
These are the questions I ask. You’ve probably had similar ones. How do we reconcile the freedom we at times know,
Or cling to like a bouy in choppy waters
With the slavery we still experience?
Or at best, the lack of freedom.
To our detriment we have been conditioned by the church and the magazines at the check-out line that simple solutions can be offered with a straight face. Three points, five tips, seven sassy suggestions. Suffering and freedom tied up with a shiny bow.
I come to you, knowing you are probably as weary of this part of our culture as I am. And yet. And yet, may I offer two observations on this paradox? This tension I feel within myself when it comes to our freedom in Christ?
As I have tossed these questions around and come at them from this angle and than that angle I’ve realized that I often associate freedom with the idea of freedom from and ignore freedom to and freedom for. Freedom surely means freedom from pain and suffering, right? Or freedom from constraints or restrictions. Those are the freedoms my mind goes to first.
But God is slowing me down and broaden the idea of freedom to include freedom to have the outside reality be different than the inside experience. A loved one may die and grief can be mixed with relief without someone being a horrible person. A disease may be an invitation for friends and family to be intentional with the time left.
I can see the cultural influences on my thinking of freedom. God placed us in cultural context and it’s OK to be influenced by our cultures, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water! The problem isn’t the cultural influences, instead it is unexamined influences that can lead to limited understandings. It’s when we step back and ask “in what ways” and “how” have I been influenced and ask God to show us a more excellent way that he will! He will enlarge, correct, and confirm. This is the journey of growing as a believer.
But no matter how much we mature, there are simply going to be areas where the answer we are given is unsatisfactory in this life. When it comes to freedom, God has pointed out to me that already/not yet applies here as well.
Believers in Jesus are free and each believer can point to areas of their life where they are free in ways they weren’t before. But we still experience brokenness and live in broken systems. To say that we are completely free now is foolish talk. Even Paul said I do not do the things I want to do and the things I want to do, I don’t do. He is not yet completely free. And neither am I. And neither are you.
Freedom is already. Yes! Freedom is not yet. Yes! Already/not yet is big enough to hold the freedom we have while acknowledging the lack of freedom that is our current truth as well. It helps me to celebrate the freedom I have AND keep me pointed toward the ultimate freedom that is waiting for us.
Jesus isn’t a liar. But he’s also no simpleton and invites us to live our messy, beautiful lives in light of the freedom that will one day be completely ours.