Posts tagged ‘Freedom’

The Shadow-Side of Freedom

Credit: Khairul Nizam / Pexels.com

Last week, the latch on our backdoor handle got stuck. After working it loose, I discovered that the whole handle was worn out and needed to be replaced. I groaned inwardly because I am not known for being handy. To put it mildly, I am “home improvement compromised.” But, after trudging to Lowe’s to purchase a new handle, I scoured YouTube and found a guy with a thick southern accent who walked me through the process of replacing a door handle step-by-step. Everything was replaced, rekeyed, and ready to go within a few minutes. And I was more than a little thankful for the YouTube handyman who was wiser to the ways of door handles than I was.

In a famous 1946 lecture, existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre quipped:

Man cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself. He discovers forthwith, that he is without excuse.

Sartre argues that when it comes to living, you just have to “figure it out.” He goes on to tell the story of a young man, who was once a student of his, who struggled to decide whether to stay and care for his mother in Paris or join the Free French Forces and fight the Nazis. Sartre asks of this young man’s moral dilemma:

What could help him to choose? Could the Christian doctrine? No. Christian doctrine says: Act with charity, love your neighbor, deny yourself for others, choose the way which is hardest, and so forth. But which is the harder road? To whom does one owe the more brotherly love, the patriot or the mother?

If values are uncertain, if they are still too abstract to determine the particular, concrete case under consideration, nothing remains but to trust in our instincts.

According to Sartre, this young man was just going to have to “figure it out.”

Sartre concludes his lecture:

Life is nothing until it is lived; but it is yours to make sense of, and the value of it is nothing else but the sense that you choose.

Sartre’s lecture, at first glance, carries with a lucrative offer of freedom. There is no higher authority of power, he argues, to which you can appeal to make life’s decisions than yourself. You can choose for yourself by looking to yourself. But, as my door handle experience reminded me, there are times where looking to yourself is not freeing, but frightening. Sartre admits as much when he says:

Man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet is nevertheless at liberty, and from the moment that he is thrown into this world he is responsible for everything he does.

Too much freedom, it turns out, can feel like condemnation because, as initially nice as it may be to jettison a higher authority who looks over your shoulder and tells you what to do, you are still not truly free in one very important way – you are not free not to choose. You must choose something and then live with the consequences of your choice, no matter how awful. Everything rests on you, and you just have to “figure it out.”

The promise of Christianity is not that it removes or avoids all human responsibility and choice. There are plenty of calls in the pages of Scripture for humans to live morally and to choose wisely. But all of this human responsibility is placed inside a larger story of divine sovereignty. God is ultimately in control, offering guidance so that we may make righteous decisions and offering forgiveness for all the times we do not. We are not left merely to our own devices to “figure it out.”

One of the implicit criticisms Sartre levels against Christianity is in the story of his young student who is trying to decide between remaining in Paris to take care of his mother or joining the Free French Forces to fight the Nazis. Sartre explains that divine guidance will do this man no good because there is no divine guidance to tell this man what to do:

What could help him to choose? Could the Christian doctrine? No. Christian doctrine says: Act with charity, love your neighbor, deny yourself for others, choose the way which is hardest, and so forth. But which is the harder road? To whom does one owe the more brotherly love, the patriot or the mother?

But Sartre misses something in his characterization of God’s guidance. The young man in Sartre’s story faces two choices that could be considered moral. But just because there is no divine command that will make this young man’s particular decision for him does not mean that there is no sovereign help.

The Psalmist says:

The LORD is with me; He is my helper. (Psalm 118:7)

A lack of specific guidance from God about a specific decision does not mean that there is a lack of the presence of God through every decision. God will be with us – in our best decisions and our worst – with a freedom that removes burdens instead of one that creates them. For even when we don’t know what to do, He will help us through, and He will work things out, even when things – or when we – go astray. We don’t just have to “figure it out.” Instead, we can trust in Him.

March 8, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Venezuela’s Long Fight for Freedom

SEE IT: Armored military vehicle plows into protesters as violence breaks out in Venezuela

Credit: NTN24

In a scene reminiscent of the slaughter at Tiananmen Square, last Tuesday, a Venezuela National Guard vehicle ran over a group of protestors who were supportive of opposition leader Juan Guaidó, after he called upon members of that nation’s military to rise up against President Nicolás Maduro.  Nicholas Casey reported on the situation for The New York Times:

It was the boldest move yet by Juan Guaidó, Venezuela’s opposition leader: at sunrise, he stood flanked by soldiers at an air force base in the heart of the capital, saying rebellion was at hand …

In the streets, anti-government demonstrators clashed with forces loyal to the president amid reports of live fire, rubber bullets and tear gas. A health clinic in Caracas took in 69 people injured during the day. An armored vehicle rammed protesters, but it was not immediately clear how many people were hurt … 

Since January, Mr. Guaidó has run what amounts to a parallel government, counting on support from more than 50 countries, including the United States, even as Mr. Maduro remains the country’s leader. Despite Mr. Maduro’s low popularity, however, the opposition’s momentum has been sapped as Mr. Guaidó has failed to depose the president or solve the shortages of food, medicine, water and power that plague the country’s 30 million people.

Venezuela is in trouble.  And anyone who has been watching knows that Venezuela has been in trouble for a very long time.

President Trump has been a strong supporter of Mr. Guaidó’s opposition movement, decrying Mr. Maduro’s authoritarian rule.  As news of the protests broke, the president tweeted:

I am monitoring the situation in Venezuela very closely. The United States stands with the People of Venezuela and their Freedom! 

The freedom of the Venezuelan people is indeed critical.  How to attain such a freedom, however, is complicated.  When President Maduro first came to power in Venezuela in 2013, some people saw him as a national savior, following the disastrous presidency of Hugo Chávez.  They were most certainly wrong.  His crimes against his people are many and well-documented as he has continued his predecessor’s legacy of economic and humanitarian oppression.  As is often the case, politicians who promise to save a nation often only wind up becoming authoritarian and crooked.  To use the famed axiom of Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt.”

Ultimately, freedom cannot be given by any man, whether that man be Nicolás Maduro or Juan Guaidó, for freedom is not the property of any man.  But freedom can be celebrated and protected by every man.  This is why the framers of our Constitution were not so interested in enumerating the powers of our government as they were in limiting the powers of our government.

Venezuela’s struggles remain.  And it will take humble people who hold power lightly – instead of dictators who wield power recklessly – to begin to truly address the country’s ills.  The exercise of power must yield to the practice of compassion.  Venezuelan lives depend on it.

May 6, 2019 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Same-Sex Marriage, Transgenderism, and Oppression

LGBT Rally

It was the fourth-century church father Gregory of Nazianzus who wrote of God:

The three most ancient conceptions concerning God are Anarchia, Polyarchia, and Monarchia … Anarchy is a thing without order; and Polyarchy is like civil war, and thus anarchical, and thus disorderly.  For both of these tend toward the same thing, namely disorder; and this to dissolution, for disorder is the first step to dissolution.  But Monarchy is that which we hold in honor.[1]

Gregory is speaking here of the Trinity and is making the point that the persons of the Godhead are not independent of each other and unconcerned with each other in a kind of divine anarchy, nor are they vying for power against each other as in a polyarchy.  Rather, God is a monarchy – at perfect peace in Himself as three persons and one God.  This is why the apostle Paul can describe the nature of God as “not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33).

Order is essential to the nature and character of God.  And the order of God shows up in that which He creates.  What God creates during the first three days of creation, for instance, are filled in a very orderly fashion by what He creates in the second three days of creation (cf. Genesis 1:1-26).  When God makes human beings, he orders them as “male and female” (Genesis 1:27).  When God assigns humans work, He creates an order that places people as the crown and the stewards of what He has made (cf. Genesis 1:28-30).  And when God creates human relations, He outlines an order by which “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

Recently, the transgender movement has been grabbing headline after headline.  A simple search on The New York Times website revealed that, in one 24-hour period, the paper ran 19 stories dealing with transgender concerns.  This comes on the heels of a pitched battle over same-sex marriage last year.  In both cases, these battles have been framed in terms of oppression.  To deprive gay couples of the ability to legally marry was oppressive, same-sex marriage advocates argued.  To ask questions about whether or not a person’s internal gender identification can be unflinchingly determinative of someone’s being as a male or female has also been called oppressive and discriminatory.  In light of such oppression, the argument has gone, what is needed is freedom – freedom to marry whoever you like and freedom to be the gender you perceive yourself as, even if your biological sex does not match your internal orientation.

Because freedom is such an integral part of the American ethos, to argue against freedom – whether that be the freedom to marry or the freedom to transition from a male to a female or a female to a male – seems almost sacrilegious.  But what if our starting category for these debates over same-sex marriage and transgenderism needs shifting?  What if we need to begin by asking questions not about oppression, but about order?  What if the orderliness of God and of His creation really does have a bearing on the way we order our lives – not in an oppressive way, but in a graciously protective way?

If not being able to marry who you want and live as the gender you internally identify as is oppressive, then it makes sense to push toward freedom.  Freedom is, after all, generally a good thing.  But if these strictures are not about oppression, but about order, then to push against them is not to strive for freedom, but to create chaos.  And chaos can be disastrous.

Scripture is clear that true freedom must be guided by Godly order.  In the words of the apostle Paul, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).  It is the orderly Spirit who must be present to give and to guide good freedom.  Freedom without such order degenerates into chaos.  And, as any number of Middle Eastern countries can tell you, chaos makes a society ripe for an oppressor.  To deny a Godly order is to invite an oppressive orderer.

In our current discussions over transgenderism and same-sex marriage, it is perhaps worth it to ask ourselves as Christians:  for what are we striving?  Are we striving to oppress, marginalize, and stigmatize the LGBT community, which has, sadly, admittedly happened in the past, or are we striving to call all people to a helpful order for their lives?  The first goal is clearly self-righteous and sinful.  But the second is Godly and needed – even if many outside the Church don’t see it that way.

_______________________

[1] Gregory of Naziansus, Select Orations 29:2

June 6, 2016 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Why I Agree With Tim Cook

Credit:  ABC News

Credit: ABC News

I agree with Tim Cook.

When the CEO of Apple writes, “Discrimination, in all its forms, is bad for business,” I agree. Discrimination in its civil rights sense of, ironically, indiscriminately hating a whole group of people simply because of a particular characteristic, practice, or belief is unacceptable. When Cook says, “This is about how we treat each other as human beings,” I agree.[1]  Treating each other without so much as a modicum of dignity and understanding is inexcusable.

I agree with Tim Cook. But I don’t think Tim Cook agrees with me.

In what has become the latest kerfuffle over religious rights and gay rights, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law Senate Bill 568, stating:

A state or local government action may not substantially burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion unless it is demonstrated that applying the burden to the person’s exercise of religion is: (1) essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and (2) the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest.

Almost immediately, a furor erupted. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Calls to boycott Indiana dominated Twitter on Friday. Tourism officials in Indianapolis fielded an onslaught of questions from convention planners … Even the NCAA, which is based in Indianapolis and is planning to host more than 100,000 basketball fans next weekend, expressed concerns about what the law means.[2]

At the root of this riot is a concern that this bill’s protection against government actions that “substantially burden a person right to the exercise of religion” could lead to public accommodations refusing to serve LGBT people because their owners may have ethical convictions that conflict with the convictions of many in the LGBT community. One thinks of the Oregon baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple for their wedding and the Washington florist who refused to sell flower arrangements to another same-sex couple for their wedding.

The New York Times pulled no punches in its disdain for Indiana’s bill, publishing and op-ed piece by its editorial board titled, “In Indiana, Using Religion as a Cover for Bigotry.” And, as with Tim Cook, I can say that I agree with the editorial board of The New York Times insofar as I abhor the thought of religion being used to mask bigotry.

But at the same time I agree with them, I still don’t think they agree with me. Here’s why.

Tim Cook and The New York Times editorial board have taken up a moral crusade against bigotry. And I am happy to join them. Bigotry is wrong. But where they have one moral concern, I have two. Because at the same time I despise bigotry, I am also heartbroken by shifting social mores on human sexuality. Like bigotry, for me, the twisting of human sexuality is a moral issue that is tearing at the fabric of both our society and our souls. Lust is hurting us. Pornography is hurting us. Affairs are hurting us. Domineering husbands who demand sex from their wives are hurting us. And yes, sex outside of the context of marriages between husbands and wives is hurting us.

But to operate – even when I’m doing business – under such Christian conviction does not automatically equate to discrimination. And to say that I think something is wrong in a loving, thoughtful, and gentle way does not ineluctably constitute bigotry.  In many ways, Christian conviction has proven itself an an indispensable blessing to business.  Christian commitments to faithfulness, honesty, integrity, graciousness, and generosity can have amazingly positive impacts in cutthroat corporate cultures.  Why would we not surmise that a loving commitment to some sort of sexual morality might not have a similar impact?  This is where I think Tim Cook and the editorial board of The New York Times get things wrong – not in their moral repulsion at discrimination and bigotry, but in their use of the terms.

It is true that Christian conviction has sometimes been twisted toward bigoted ends. I think of the man in Colorado who marched into a bakery and ordered cakes with slogans like “God hates gays” written on them. When the bakery refused to make the cakes, he filed a lawsuit. That is not living by Christian conviction. That’s being a jerk. But that is not what I’m talking about. I’m simply trying to make the case that at the same time the likes of Tim Cook, The New York Times editorial board, and, for that matter, many Christians around the world believe that bigotry is a moral issue that needs to be addressed and confronted, many Christians around the world also believe that shifting ethics on human sexuality is a moral issue that needs to be addressed. I think it’s only fair and right to hear them out – and to refrain from labeling them as bigots. I also think it’s only decent to respect their consciences – especially when their consciences express themselves in love – even when they’re running public accommodations.

So let’s make a deal: let’s stand against bigotry together while respecting each others’ differences in conscience.  Who knows? The result might just be a deeper understanding of each other and a deeper love for each other. And I hope those are two morals on which we can all agree.

_______________________

[1] Tim Cook, “Tim Cook: Pro-discrimination ‘religious freedom’ laws are dangerous,” The Washington Post (3.9.2015).

[2] Mark Peters and Jack Nicas, “Indiana Religious Freedom Law Sparks Fury,” The Wall Street Journal (3.27.2015).

April 6, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Limits of Human Freedom

Statue of LibertyWe, in America, like freedom.  We talk about it.  We write about it.  We even sing about it.  Anyone who has ever attended a sporting event where our national anthem was sung has heard in soaring melody how we live in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

We, in America, like freedom.  And we will fight, protest, and lobby to protect the freedoms most near and dear to our hearts.  Some fight, protest, and lobby to protect the freedom of religion – to practice their beliefs as they choose.  Others fight, protest, and lobby for the freedom to keep and bear arms.  Still others fight, protest, and lobby for the freedom to marry whoever they want – even if whoever they want is of the same gender.

Perhaps it is our love of freedom that makes the doctrine of predestination so offensive to so many.  Jesus summarizes predestination thusly:  “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (John 15:16).  The doctrine of predestination, then, is simply this:  it is God, not us, who is in charge of our salvation.  When it comes to our salvation, we are not free!

This is where the hackles of our freedom-loving hearts can get raised.  Indeed, the most common objection that I hear whenever I teach on predestination is, “But what about our free wills?  Doesn’t predestination mean that God turns us into automatons – unable to accept or reject Him?”

I have addressed this question many times and in many ways.  But to address it this time, I would turn your attention the midcentury American sociologist Philip Rieff who, I believe, writes about the limits of our free wills – and the goodness of these limits – in a poignant and powerful way.  Rieff writes:

There is no feeling more desperate than that of being free to choose, and yet without the specific compulsion of being chosen.  After all, one does not really choose; one is chosen.  This is one way of stating the difference between gods and men.  Gods choose; men are chosen.  What men lose when they become as free as gods is precisely that sense of being chosen, which encourages them, in their gratitude, to take their subsequent choices seriously.[1]

To choose without first being chosen, Rieff explains, is a miserable manner of existence.  After all, if there is no God who loves you enough to choose you, what does your choice of Him – or of anything else, for that matter – matter?  Who would want to choose a God in their limited power who doesn’t care enough to first choose them out of His infinite power?  This is why the apostle Paul speaks of predestination in such glowing terms:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will – to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. (Ephesians 1:3-7)

Paul is thrilled by the doctrine of predestination!  For Paul knows that the only way he is free to make decisions worth making is when believes and sees that he himself is a decision that God thought was worth making in predestination.  Paul’s limited free will is of no consequence if it cannot come under the tender loving care of God’s perfect free will.

So, do you long to be free?  Do you fight, protest, and lobby to protect the freedoms that are near and dear to your heart?  If you do, remember that your freedom of choice is only as good and meaningful as your bondage to Christ.  Without being under Christ’s rule and reign, your freedom is futile.  Under Christ’s rule and reign, however, your freedom is purposeful.  And I don’t know about you, but I want my freedom to mean something.

_______________________

[1] Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1966), 93.

August 4, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

S.B. 1062

Credit:  LA Times

Credit: LA Times

A funny thing happened on my way back from a recent trip I took to Arizona.  The state became embroiled in a heated political battle over Senate Bill 1062.[1]  Okay, it may not have been funny.  But these kinds of battles are common.

According to some, S.B. 1062 championed religious liberty, allowing business owners with religious convictions to deny service to a party if the business owner felt that serving that party would substantially burden or contradict his religious convictions.  According to others, S.B. 1062 violated the civil rights of homosexuals by formally and legally legitimatizing discrimination against them.

Last Wednesday, Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill, explaining, “I have not heard of one example in Arizona where business owners’ religious liberty has been violated … The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences.”[2]  Of course, the political pressure on Governor Brewer was hot:

Companies such as Apple Inc. and American Airlines, and politicians including GOP Sen. John McCain and former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney were among those who urged Brewer to veto the legislation. The Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, which is overseeing preparations for the 2015 game, came out with a statement against the legislation. The Hispanic National Bar Association on Wednesday said it canceled its 2015 convention in Phoenix over the measure.[3]

In observing the volley between supporters and detractors of this bill, two things strike me.

First, homosexuality – and, specifically, gay rights – is not only a hot topic in our society, it is the hot topic in our society.  Interestingly, nowhere does S.B. 1062 mention homosexuality.  It simply speaks of “the free exercise of religion.”  Yet, USA Today reported on Governor Brewer’s veto of the bill with this headline:  “Arizona governor vetoes anti-gay bill.”[4]  These days, how a piece of legislation will affect the gay community is the litmus test as to whether or not a bill can or should pass, even if that bill does not specifically mention the gay community.  Gay rights, then, are front and center.  They are the battleground du jour of our society.

Second, there are a lot of homosexuals who deeply despise Christians with orthodox beliefs concerning the sinfulness of homosexual activity and will go to great – and even duplicitous – lengths to paint Christians as homophobic bigots.  Stories abound of people who have concocted heinous hate crimes against themselves.  Take, for instance, the lesbian couple that spray-painted their own garage with the message “Kill the gay.”[5]  Or how about the Tennessee man who falsely claimed that three men beat him and robbed his store in an anti-gay attack?[6]  Then, of course, there was the famed incident of the waitress who falsely claimed she was stiffed on a tip because she was a lesbian.[7]  Personally, I don’t want to think of anyone in the homosexual community as my enemy.  Life is too short to keep an enemies’ list.  But I am not so naïve as to believe that there aren’t some in the homosexual community who think of me as their enemy.

So what am I to do?

Jesus’ admonition to pray for those who are on the outs with you (cf. Matthew 5:44) seems to be especially apropos for a time such as this.  To this end, I would invite you to join me in praying for three things as the culture war over sexual rights continues to rage.

First, pray for forgiveness.  Though it is painful to admit, it was not too long ago that it was exponentially more likely for a message like “Kill the gay” to be spray painted not by someone self-imposing a hate crime, but by someone committing one.  And sometimes, that someone was even a self-professed Christian.  This, of course, directly defies a myriad of biblical commandments concerning our conduct as Christians.  Our call to tell the truth about sin must never be a license to commit sin – especially the sin of hate.  We need forgiveness for our missteps – which are plenty – in this debate.

Second, pray for understanding.  I want to be understood.  I want people to understand and believe that I am not a homophobic hate monger who wants to oppress, humiliate, and exile those who do not share my same faith and ethical commitments.  But if I want this for myself, it is only fair that I afford the same courtesy to others.  Martin Luther summarized the Eighth Commandment by saying that, when dealing with our neighbors, we should “put the best construction on everything.”[8]  I can think of no better way to respond to those who put the worst construction on Christians’ intentions than by putting the best construction on theirs.  Generous understanding offers our greatest hope for peace in the midst of a hotly contested and, sadly, dirtily fought culture war.

Third, pray that true love would prevail.  The “true” is just as important as the “love” here, for our society has settled for a counterfeit love that reduces love to nothing more than tolerance.  Just the other day, I heard a caller to a radio talk show explain how one of the primary virtues of Christianity is tolerance.  Really?  A quick search of the word “tolerate” in the Bible brings up verses like these:

  • Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret, I will put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, I will not tolerate. (Psalm 101:5)
  • Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; You cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do You tolerate the treacherous? (Habakkuk 1:13)
  • It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. (1 Corinthians 5:1)

Tolerance does not seem to be the high brow Scriptural virtue that some would like to peddle it as.  This is not to say that we shouldn’t live with, work alongside with, and care for people who do not share our same moral commitments.  In this way, we should indeed be tolerant.  But tolerance does not necessarily entail endorsement.

Ultimately, as Christians, we ought to aspire to a much higher value than that of tolerance.  We ought to aspire to love.  “Love,” the apostle Paul reminds us, “does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 1:6).  To love someone well, we must tell him the truth, even when the truth is unpopular.  This is our calling with all sin – sexual and otherwise.

So these are my prayers.  Now, it’s your turn.  Will you join me in praying the same?


[1] S.B. 1062, 51st Leg., 2nd sess. (Ariz. 2014).

[2] Aaron Blake, “Arizona governor vetoes bill on denying services to gays,” The Washington Post (2.26.2014).

[3] Bob Christie, “Arizona Religious Bill That Angered Gays Vetoed,” ABC News (2.27.2014).

[4] Dan Nowicki, Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Alia Beard Rau, “Arizona governor vetoes anti-gay bill,” USA Today (2.26.2014).

[5] Alyssa Newcomb, “Lesbian Couple Charged With Staging Hate Crime,” ABC News (2.19.2012).

[6] Chuck Ross, “Report: Man falsified police report in alleged anti-gay attack,” The Daily Caller (12.26.2013).

[7]  Cavan Sieczkowski, “New Jersey Waitress In Anti-Gay Receipt Saga Reportedly Let Go From Job,” The Huffington Post (12.9.2013).

[8] LC 1.8.

March 3, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Let Freedom Ring…Temperately

Beyonce and Jay Z 1It was Jean-Jacques Rousseau who wrote, “Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”[1]  Of course, Rousseau’s conception of freedom was one where man was free from all restraints, most especially moral and social restraints. Rousseau argued that man’s ideal state is one where he is not reliant on morals or on others.  Reliance on morals and others rather than self-reliance, Rousseau opined, threatens man’s very survival and existence.

Rousseau wrote his words concerning man’s freedom in 1762.  We’ve been trying to decide whether or not he was right ever since.

Case in point:  Beyoncé’s performance at the Grammy’s.  Anand Giridharadas of the New York Times, in an article on her Grammy appearance, characterized Beyoncé like this:  “God-fearing girl from Texas, scantily clad and sexualized vixen, mononymous superstar and feminist icon, the wife who took Jay-Z’s last name, Carter.”[2]  What an interesting combination of characteristics.  She’s a sexualized vixen and a God-fearing girl.  And both were on display in her Grammy performance.  On the one hand, Beyoncé sang a truly blush-worthy and downright raunchy song in an outfit that defied common decency.  On the other hand, she performed with her husband, Jay-Z, as together they extolled the pleasures of sex within marriage.  Extolling the pleasures of sex within marriage is solidly Christian.  Grinding in front of 28.5 million viewers is crass voyeurism.  Marital intimacy is solidly moral and, I would point out, biblically commanded (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:5).  Dropping your bedroom onto a national stage is a Rousseauian dream.

The apostle Paul writes, “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). Rousseau’s freedom was a freedom to sin.  Paul’s freedom was a freedom from sin:  “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).  Rousseau abhorred the notion that man would rely on others.  Paul called Christians to be people on which others could happily rely.

Thomas Jefferson once noted, “It would be a miracle were [people] to stop precisely at temperate liberty.”[3]  Jefferson feared that, left to their own devices, people would all too easily and quickly lapse into “unbounded licentiousness,” running headlong for the unbridled freedom of Rousseau rather than toward the virtuous liberty of Paul.  And this is, sadly, what has happened.

But not completely.

There are still some who understand that true freedom is not so much about the moral bounds you can break, but about the responsibility you can take.  There are still some who understand that freedom is not so much about the selfish hedonism in which you can engage, but about the loving service you can offer.  That’s true freedom.  That’s real freedom.  And, by God’s grace, we can still carry forth in that freedom.  We must carry forth in that freedom.

Anything else is just “a yoke of slavery.”


[1] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, Christopher Betts, trans. (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1994), 45

[2] Anand Giridharadas, “Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Sultry Dance Makes a Case for Marriage,” New York Times (2.3.2014).

[3] Esther Franklin, Thomas Jefferson: Inquiry History for Daring Delvers (Esther Franklin, 2012).

February 10, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

ABC Extra – Authority Issues

In seminary, I had a friend who loved the sitcom “Malcolm in the Middle.”  He watched it religiously.  I myself was not so big a fan, but the theme song for the show, sung by They Might Be Giants, was catchy and still sticks in my mind.  Its chorus was clear and unambiguous:  “You’re not the boss of me now.  You’re not the boss of my now.  You’re not the boss of me now, and you’re not so big.”  What a message of fierce independence!  Apparently, They Might Be Giants had problems with authority.

Problems with authority, of course, are nothing new.  They are as old as the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve first rebelled against the authority of God and ate from the tree of which God warned, “You must not eat” (cf. Genesis 2:17).  There is a seemingly innate tug on the human spirit to declare to God and everyone else, “You’re not the boss of me!”

Considering the difficulty so many of us have with authority, it comes as no surprise that many people try either to minimize or rationalize the Bible’s calls to submit to authority.  Yet, the call of Scripture remains clear.  The preacher of Hebrews declares, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).  There are a couple of especially notable features of this verse.

First, it is important to note that those in authority over others are themselves under authority.  They “must give an account,” the preacher of Hebrews says, concerning how they exercised their authority.  Specifically, they must give an account to the Lord.  As I mentioned in ABC, all human authority is derived authority.  That is, all human authority is given by God to certain individuals who are called to steward that authority faithfully and well.  No human being has a carte blanche authority which is unaccountable to God.

Second, it is important to note that when those under authority willingly and joyfully submit to the authority of others, things tend to go better – both for those in authority and for those under authority!  The preacher of Hebrews says that when people under authority submit to authority, the job of those in authority becomes “a joy, not a burden.”  Likewise, to those under authority, the preacher of Hebrews says that rebellion is “of no advantage to you.”  Submitting to authority makes things go well – for everyone!

Rebellion against authority often appears tantalizing.  After all, it promises the alluring prospect of autonomy.  But such autonomy is illusive and, finally, non-existent.  For at the same time we seek to rebel out from under the authority of others, we end up rebelling into the authority of sin.  And the authority sin wields is tragic and terrorizing.  Paul calls the authority of sinfulness “weak and miserable.”  He then goes on to ask, “Do you wish to be enslaved by it all over again” (Galatians 4:9)?  The authority of sin leads to slavery.  The authority of Christ, conversely, leads to freedom – not freedom from all constraints, but freedom for a joyful and righteous life.  This is why Paul continues:  “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).

Though it is true that some authority is depraved and despotic and ought to be resisted, in general, we are called to submit to those in authority.  For we need authority.  We need authority to provide guidance, protection, and a safeguard against wickedness.  Blessedly, God’s authority provides all of these things perfectly and fully.  Submit to His authority.  And submit to those He has put in authority over you.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

June 6, 2011 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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