Freedom to do one’s own liking is rated high in advanced societies. It then follows that defying norms is seen as breaking new ground and opening up other avenues for growth. But should one strive for absolute freedom? It might result in an extremely autonomous culture, where each one becomes a law unto himself, jeopardizing community needs.
While freedom is a necessary component for citizens, what one does with it is equally crucial. The statue of liberty needs a statue of responsibility, or we will end up with freedom and no accountability. As hard as one might try – complete freedom eludes human experience. Imagine a maverick who jumps off a two-storey building to disprove gravity. For sure the law of gravity would not be broken, but the person might end up proving it by breaking some bones. As author Mary Crowley once penned: “We are free up to the point of choice, then the choice controls the chooser”. There is an intrinsic limit to personal freedom and that might not be a bad thing.
While oppressive law against individuals needs to be fought against, a throwing away of all laws might not help human flourishing. Imagine having a holiday in space. Though one might escape the gravitational pull but could get tossed about without any firm footing. So, a grounding through gravity should not be viewed as a limitation – but as a binding law that helps one move about freely.
True freedom is, therefore, not the absence of all rules but engaging in the reality of necessary boundaries. A football game that throws away its goal-posts could hardly provide a meaningful match. On the other hand, a game with the boundary lines, rules, and goal-posts ensures immense pleasure for millions worldwide.
A reality of human experience is that we protest against external oppression, while turning a blind eye to the oppression within. One does not always enjoy freedom on the inside and we find ourselves slaves to our own negative thoughts, failures, habits, rituals and circumstances. This is worse since we have no one else to blame but ourselves. The Bible recognizes this nature within as self-destructive, one that makes us do things that derail our plans and debilitate our progress.
The scripture talks about freedom from this conflict within. But it doesn’t leave one there and invites the pilgrim to commit to a nobler cause.
Songwriter Charles Wesley, captures this inner freedom and new allegiance in his famed song:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off, my heart was free
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
God’s light comes through to the dark prison of the soul and the seeker gladly follows His Master in willing service.
In a story, C.S. Lewis, the British novelist, talks about two horses that are on the run from their evil taskmasters. Their new-found freedom is short-lived as they hear the sound of someone chasing them at a distance. They put their heart and soul into their galloping. Fearing the tyrant behind, they push themselves to the hilt, until they reach a point when one of them admits that he cannot run anymore. They stop for a breather. One of the horses becomes contemplative and observes: ‘You know when we were working for our masters, they would spur us and we would keep going on and on. But now that we are on our own, shouldn’t we be able to run even better? Were we doing better when we were enslaved?’ Interestingly, the one who was chasing them from behind was Aslan, a representative of the good and the mighty. It was he who was chasing the horses away from dangerous terrain.
The Infinite One is on a pursuit to help us discover ourselves. We are truly free when we yield ourselves to the One who brings freedom and responsibility. In other words, we are freed to serve.
The article was first published on Independence Day this year under the Speaking Tree Column in Times of India