Written: Rev. Nathan Hill
I have heard many people praise our Canadian culture for its widespread freedom. We as Canadians are free to do whatever we wish and to be whoever we want to be so long as it does not infringe upon the freedom of others around us. Therefore, most everything that our heart and mind desires can become a reality in this, our free country.
The Apostle Paul talks a lot about freedom in his letter to the Galatians. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). When I first preached that passage many years ago I struggled to differentiate the kind of freedom that Paul was speaking about with the kind of freedom we experience in our culture. Some might say that there is no difference, reacting to previous generations of legalism and strict codes of behavior. Therefore, biblical freedom and cultural freedom mean the same thing—I can do whatever my heart desires. Why is it then that our heart’s desires sometimes return us to a “yoke of slavery” once again? Is there a deeper meaning to this biblical freedom?
Mandy and I have been watching a television series on Netflix where a gentleman convicted of art forgery and thievery is permitted release from prison to work as a consultant for the FBI. The only catch is that he has to wear a tracking anklet so that his movements about New York City are monitored! At first this gentleman sees the anklet as restrictive—he does not feel free. Yet, as the seasons of the series unfold he begins to describe this period of his life as the most fulfilling ever. Is it possible that the greatest freedom comes from living within prescribed boundaries? Is it possible that our heart’s desires are not all expressions of freedom but sometimes lead us right back into a “yoke of slavery?”
The only stage of life where our culture believes that boundaries provide a greater and healthier expression of freedom is in childhood. Everyone who is a parent or who has had experience with children knows that their hearts have many desires, and if always given their heart’s desires they will become spoiled, disrespectful, self-entitled, and self-centred just to name a few. There is good reason why we instruct children not to chase their soccer ball out onto the road for fear of getting hit by a car. This is a boundary that does not compromise their freedom but instead protects their freedom. My wife always reminds me of the day that our family was eating at Cracker Barrel and the food was taking a while to come. Our oldest, Ben, was about two years old at the time and decided he wanted me to take the ax off the wall above our table for him to play with. Yup, an ax. I humored him for a moment, and much to Mandy’s horror I reached up pretending to take the ax down. For the record, I do not allow my two-year-old children to play with axes or other tools with sharp blades. Does this infringe upon his freedom, or does it protect his freedom? Would he experience greater freedom having chopped off fingers or limbs with an ax I gave him to play with, or does he experience greater freedom today in his wholeness (despite desperately still wanting to play with axes)?
At some stage of life our philosophy of freedom changes and all boundaries are removed. Having worked with teenagers for over a decade I can conclude that they do not often handle absolute freedom as well as we had hoped. Is it possible then that real freedom always involves boundaries of some kind and that being an adult does not mean removing all childhood boundaries but instead reshaping them? Will our heart’s desires sometimes lead us into greater slavery and not greater freedom? I think so.
The only thing left is to determine who sets my boundaries—who sets your boundaries? Do you have any? Parents have the ultimate responsibility of setting boundaries for their children because parents are older, wiser, and responsible for having created them. If only there was someone older, wiser, and responsible for having created everything that we see around us—maybe then we could find some great boundaries for life? Think about that…
Proverbs 16:25 “There is a way that seems right to men and women, but its end is the way to death.”