By William Deatherage, Executive Director
“You have set us free.” The ancient Israelites had it rough to say the least. Time after time they were captured by intimidating forces, and whenever they caught a glimpse of salvation, they were subjugated by yet another fierce empire that rose up to take the last one’s place.
Perhaps most notably, the Babylonians (500s BC) rocked the ancient Israelite world, inspiring decades of messianic literature, as the Jews, exiled from their homeland, sought a savior. Eventually, the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland when Persia conquered the Babylonians. But even then, were the Jews truly free? Sure, they were allowed to practice their customs and rituals in Jerusalem, but even still many writers longed for a return to the times of King David, a time of independence. Regardless of Persia, any semblance of freedom didn’t last so long, as the Greeks asserted strict pagan rule over the Jews. And with the fall of Greece came the era of Rome, a time of tension between Jews and their pagan counterparts.
It seems as if during each of these time periods, freedom was of utmost importance to Jewish scholars, but it was also contingent on the ruling authorities that could protect it. Even in Davidic times, the Jewish right to worship could only be enforced by the ruling powers themselves, and a basic overview of the Old Testament reveals a set of very strict moral codes that don’t seem to encourage a lot of freedom. It evokes a fundamental question: isn’t subjection to God’s rule a form of slavery in itself?
It’s an interesting concept. Through God we are saved and set free, yet such freedom requires submission. It is only through obedience and surrender to a greater authority that we gain freedom. At first glance this doesn’t add up well. Or does it?
Perhaps modern society has distorted the once noble concept of freedom. As Americans, we are told that to be free is to do what we want, when we want, and how we want to do it. The term “freedom” has practically become synonymous with “liberty.” And when you think about it, the idea of eternal worship and glorification of God might not sound really free at all.
But perhaps freedom isn’t about doing what we want. In fact, maybe doing what we want can take away our freedom. Think of addiction: sex, drugs, alcohol, and abusive behavior are all activities that people claim to “choose,” yet by doing so they often fall into dependency and impairment, thereby inhibiting their ability to make basic choices. After all, the Bible constantly describes man’s relation to sin as one of slavery. When we “freely choose” to sin, we actually relinquish our freedom by selling ourselves to the devil. To understand God’s relationship to freedom, it might help to first understand that freedom is not unfettered liberty; it is much more than that.
When you turn on a light, your eyes naturally see. Sure, you might not have perfect 20/20 vision, but the mere existence of light fills your world with clarity and possibilities. The human eye naturally cooperates with the light that enables its vision. When we turn off the light, we are lost. Sure, we willingly turned it off, but in doing so, we shut off our capacity to function in many ways.
“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?” Throughout the Bible, God’s status as a “light” for His people is constantly invoked because God provides us with a light so we can see the world more clearly. We break through the bonds of sin, not by doing whatever we want, but by obeying God’s commandments. By listening to God, new manifolds of opportunities are unconcealed to us. Through God we gain new freedoms regarding how we can interact with the world. Without God we are confined and chained to sin.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” God’s Kingdom is the freest society that can never be imagined. This is because the eternal worship of God will always be out of our grasp. After all, even those of us with 20/20 vision need sleep. We are so accustomed to sin, to darkness, that the thought of infinite worship of God as the greatest good eludes us. Our human bodies weren’t built to comprehend immortality (even in the Garden of Eden it is widely understood that the Tree of Life kept Adam and Eve alive), let alone Heaven. However, what we can see for certain is the devastating effects that sin has on our lives. Sin is destructive and abusive. It must be avoided at all costs, and it is only by allowing ourselves to cooperate with God’s light that we will ultimately be set free.