John Bressler-052011Listen to John Bressler read his column about freedom. Click here.
What's it like to be truly really free? I guess it depends on who's asking the question. Is it freedom from tyranny, prison, laws, restrictions, demands, reality, parents, obligations, death, poverty, age, limitations?
When I was 16 and got my shiny, new, spectacular driver's license, I knew what freedom was. It was sitting in my dad's car, turning on the key and driving down Fourth Avenue in Huntington, West Virginia. I drove with the windows down so I could feel the breeze and smell that soft summer mix of popcorn as I passed the downtown movie theatre and mown grass over by Ritter Park.
Since World War II was over only eight years ago, I knew that my father and uncles had fought for freedom against the Axis and won and my future and the future of America was a history yet to be made.
As I grow older, I have come to realize that even complete freedom is not that certain, up for debate and there are more definitions than possibilities.
If I may loosely quote Abraham Joshua Heschel, a favorite philosopher theologian of mine, "It is dangerous to take human freedom for granted." Rachel Remen writes, "Whenever anyone moves toward freedom, God Himself is there." Someone — I can't remember the name — said, "You are already free. You only have to know and realize this truth." The questions keep coming, "Who stops us from being free?" We do.
Let's go biblical, if I may. It's in Joshua 24 where the remnants of the exodus are retold the story of their deliverance so Joshua can ask them the questions, "Are you and your families going to serve the gods of Egypt or those of the Amorites or are you and your families going to serve the Lord?" The answer, "We will worship and serve the Lord!" Joshua's reply, "I don't think so. This Lord God is holy and jealous. If you choose Him and then break your promise, He will destroy you. Do you understand?" As one, the people respond, "We choose the Lord God!"
No one is forcing those ancient Israelites to do anything more than choose between two options. On that statement, I will say what I believe is true freedom. True freedom is to chose this option and its rules and regulations as well as rewards and punishments, or to chose that option and its rules and regulations as well as rewards and punishments. We are not free to not choose. We are only free to choose.
I was trained to be a Calvinist, which meant I was taught about God's irresistible grace. That sounds pretty good until I thought what that meant and decided it must not be that irresistible as too many people resisted. I guess I then became a sort of heretic when it came to being a strict Calvinist. I also didn't believe that God drug anybody kicking and screaming to church. I am one who believes in freedom of choice. That makes me a sort of Pelagian. My golfing buddies believe a Pelagian is someone who hits from the green tees. If that is the case, then when they get to be 70 or older, they can be Pelagians, too.
Paul wrote in Galatians 5, "For freedom, Christ has set us free. Make the right choice and stand fast." We all know what happens when we make the wrong choice.
When I put that driver's license in my wallet and sat alone in that car, I held the world in my hands, with two choices: I could drive that car responsibly, following the rules of the road, being courteous, careful and bringing it back to dad in one piece, or I could drive that car as fast as I could, ignoring stop signs, pedestrians, small animals, other vehicles and trees. My first option has allowed me to operate an automobile for the past 58 years without fear of the authorities. Had I chosen option two, most likely I would have lost the right to drive, spent some time in jail and paid a large chunk of money. The facts are these: either choice has its rules. It all depends on the ultimate choice.
Remember what I wrote about last week? Some folks believe that today is the last day of this old world's existence. I don't believe that, but I do believe that no matter where I wake up tomorrow, I have made the right choice when it comes to life.