Wednesday, April 26, 2023

In which I ponder what it means to be free... and cuss more than Nadia Bolz-Weber

The Gospel of John ends with this disclaimer: 

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

That is, “Here’s a bunch of stuff Jesus did, but it’s just a drop in a ginormous ocean.” 

Likewise, if someone were to write down all the things I don’t understand the world couldn’t hold those books either. And lately, without much understanding, I’ve been pondering the way the Bible correlates laws and obedience with freedom. What’s that about? How are we both supposed to follow rules AND be free?

For instance, I’ve been reading Psalm 119—a super long one all about how the writer loves God’s laws—and I stumbled across this tidbit: 

I run in the path of your commandments, for you have set my heart free. (Ps 119:32)

And there’s also this later on:

 I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts. (Psalm 119:45)

In the first one, maybe “I’m free, therefore I obey,” while in the second one, “I’m following the law, therefore, I’m free.” Which one is it? Or are they simultaneous rather than cause and effect?

Whatever the order, personal experience tells me that the law doesn’t FEEL all that free! As a happily married sixty-year-old, I’m not exactly a partier… I’m not likely to kill anyone, or steal anything… but that doesn’t mean I’m walking around sinless! It’s just less…. obvious.


In 2 Timothy, Paul reels off a list of shitty things people do, but instead of having the biggies like killing, adultery, etc., it lists less gaudy sins: being 

lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.

It sounds awful, and the letter says that this is how people will act when the world’s about to end… and that we should avoid these folks. But… I’m not altogether sure it doesn’t describe me! Surely, what we call in Christianese “our Christian walk” should be a move away from these descriptors. But it doesn’t feel like a walk. It’s spring in North Carolina, which means earlier in the week it was 70 degrees and pleasantly balmy, and a walk felt like I was standing still… and the next day it was 40 degrees with a frigid wind cutting right through my coat and my walk was an arctic slog. 

That’s why it’s so confusing—because being all those terrible things our bro Paul lists in 2 Timothy feels kinda natural like a warm-day walk, if I’m honest, and moving away from them would involve a hell of a lot of intention and effort… and require bulky outerwear and snowshoes. And that doesn’t feel very free AT ALL!

Maybe the more you walk in it the freer you feel? Again, not my experience. So if you think I’m going to resolve this conflict in this blog post, you’re going to be disappointed…! The only thing I can think of is that … maybe freedom in the Kingdom of God is, like a lot of things, counterintuitive. Like how Jesus says in Matthew 20 -  

So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” And also “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.

Could it be that what feels like freedom
is actually a trap?
Like the bigger picture of Christ—how the people thought the Messiah would be a king like David and vanquish the Romans, but instead, he was a mellow, lowly dude that let himself get killed. And the church itself—it started with a bunch of nobodies with no power. That’s why when I see a church or leader with a lot of power, it’s a little disturbing. I mean, Jesus did say that the gates of hell wouldn’t prevail against the church, but I don’t think that meant because the church would be a frightening behemoth (Matthew 16:18). I think the Kingdom of God is more … like… subterfuge.

So maybe the freedom advertised in the Bible is an upside-down version. I think our biggest clue is here in John 8 where Jesus says:

Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 


Okay, so I’m not great at interpreting the Bible but it seems like it’s saying that freedom isn’t doing whatever you want, because doing whatever you want is a trap. Like I find it so hard to NOT be the things Paul listed in Timothy because I'm TRAPPED in them. Instead, I should be buddying up to Jesus to learn what He’s about… which is this: 

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

I think maybe that’s the perfect picture of the upside-down world that He introduced. So maybe THAT’s what it looks like to be free. 

Dang, y'all - this show "The Chosen" is so good. It portrays the Jesus as a down-to-earth Dude and the disciples as a bunch of regular guys just trying to get to know Him.

Thinking all about this sort of recalls to my mind all the crazy shit about masking during the pandemic. Some people—some of them Christians, oddly—were like, “I need to be free and not wear a mask”… but is that really freedom? Maybe they’re trapped by their desire to do whatever they want? Can’t you also be free to DECIDE to wear one? Not out of fear, but because it’s just common sense and shows consideration for your fellow man?

I didn’t really understand why it was Christians who were so nutty about this. If there’s a way to love people, just do it. If there’s a way to be an asshole, just DON’T do it. Of course, that is all probably a bit too simplistic (not to mention judgmental), and I already revealed above that simply not being an asshole is not that easy… and I’m really not sure what that has to do with freedom, except I think that the overarching theme of being a Christian is love. And freedom is about choosing to do it. Choosing love over power. Like Jesus did.