The “F” word Everybody Uses but Few Understand

This term”freedom” is what we call a loaded word. It is pregnant with meaning. And I know how hard it was to get my wife to commit to anything definite when she was pregnant. But we mustn’t make the mistake of trying to define freedom in the abstract. Freedom is defined by its context. And I suggest that we ask at least two questions whenever the word is thrown up in the air to help us determine whether it’s worth catching or whether we should duck and run.

Let’s look at freedom by asking, “Freedom from what?” and “Freedom to what?” You cannot separate these two sides of the word. For example, freedom from the confines of an airplane is freedom to experience gravity. Freedom from the restraints of gravity is freedom to go where no man has gone before. Freedom for the creature under the Creator is never an absolute autonomy. A freedom from one thing necessarily means a freedom that is bound up into something else. This is where we often get off track. When we talk of freedom, we most often focus on the first question only.  

The classic example of this is the exodus of the Hebrew people. Their freedom was two-sided. God brought them out of Egypt; out of bondage and slavery to a tyrannical empire. But He also called them to something. Moses tells Pharoah to let the people go “that they may hold a feast to [God] in the wilderness.” God calls His people out of the living death of slavery in Egypt to the living sacrifice of worship at Mount Sinai. What happened when the Israelites wanted to be free from both Pharoah and God? They found themselves bound up to the freedom of wandering and dying in the wilderness.

Another example of this would be a comparison of the French and American Revolutions.  What were the similarities? Both peoples were motivated by a desire for freedom. But that is where the similarities end. Let’s put our two questions to the French Revolution. What did they want freedom from? They wanted freedom from the rule of law, from any obligation to or acknowledgement of a Divine Lawgiver, and from the restraints that come with them. What did their freedom from these things lead toward? They gained a freedom to disregard human life, to justify the means by the ends, to pursue their sensual passions without external or internal obstacles. But this type of freedom was not all inclusive. For one to exercise his freedom meant that another would lose it. It was a zero sum game. 

Now let’s put these same questions to the American Revolution (or War for Independence). What did the colonies want freedom from? They wanted freedom from the tyranny of a government that no longer recognized its limited powers and delegated authority under God. The French wanted a government free of God. The colonials wanted free of a government that set itself up as God. What did this freedom lead them toward? It led to the kind of freedom that is as inexhaustible as the God from Whom it comes. A freedom under God flows downstream to everyone who wants it.

So during this election season, as the word freedom gets thrown around from the left and the right, let us be those who define every word by the Living Word. Words are only as good as the meaning behind them. Ask the tough questions. Figure out the context. The “F” word is a glorious grace from our Lord. Let’s be careful how we use it.


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