This weekend will see the usual trappings of Fourth of July celebrations. There will be fireworks and cookouts, family gatherings and backyard activities. But this year won’t see some things that we’ve grown accustomed to on previous Independence Day holidays. There won’t be an entire day’s worth of baseball game in stadiums across the land. There also won’t be the Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island, at least not with a live audience. A lot of our celebrations have been condensed in response to the current pandemic. So, how free are we?
Contemplating this question led me to realize how at the core of the Christian gospel is the contrarian truth that real freedom lies only when a person is willing to hold back on what the prevailing culture touts as “free will.” Ask most people what freedom entails and they’ll respond with something that suggests lack of restraints. But in fact when we consider freedom from a much deeper point of view, it lies in the power that comes to us to say “no” to some things in order to say “yes” to better things.
We’ve all been exercising this degree of freedom in recent days with some of the decisions we’ve chosen to make with respect to so many of our activities, especially as we’ve chosen to forego personal liberties that we would never have considered at one time. We’ve based all those choices on a desire to do better things that will ultimately benefit others. It’s like my ninth grade civics teacher taught me years ago, “Your freedom goes only as far as it keeps you from infringing on the freedom of others.” Those words always come back to me when I go to don my face covering – something I never would have imagined myself doing, even as recently as four months ago. I like wearing a face covering about as much as I like a root canal, but I do it because it keeps me from possibly infecting others; and when I think about it in that way, I sense an immense feeling of relief. After all, who would want to live with the burden of having needlessly infected someone else?
As Eugene Peterson reminded us in his wonderful book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, our capacity to say “no” is one of the most impressive features of our humanity. Only humans can say “no.” Animals can’t do it. They only do what their instincts dictate or training implants in them. They have no other choice. Meanwhile, we humans aren’t bound by our instincts or our training. “No” is for us a freedom word and the more we Christians learn how to invoke it in the face of self-centered temptations, the freer we become to follow Jesus.
Consider that dimension of freedom on this holiday weekend. What you may discover is that your life will become more linked to your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who himself said “no” to the notion of being equal to God but who took upon himself the form of a servant and became obedient unto death (Philippians 2:6-8), and you will become more of the person God created you to be. Now, that is a freedom worth living for and even dying for, a freedom that nothing or no one could ever take away.
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).