Lately, I have been thinking a lot about freedom. Freedom is the promise of America. The land of the free. Freedom is the promise of money. If only I had enough money, I would be free to do whatever I want. There is some truth to these promises: America has radically changed the world by offering freedom of religion, speech, etc. in a time where that freedom was not guaranteed and we often take this for granted today. Money will allow you to be free to give to charities, spend less time working, have more choices of where to live or what to do with your life. Ultimately, freedom is not about these things and the promise rings hollow for many who should be the most free. Ancient Greek philosophy will help us understand this.
Aristotle taught that the truly free were the self-disciplined. True freedom lay not in the multitude of choices, but the mastery of one’s desires. A man who can do or have anything he wants, but cannot control his desires for money, power, or physcal pleasure is enslaved by those very desires. In fact, the more choices one has, the harder it might be to restrain those desires and achieve freedom. Many philosophers have followed this line of thinking and the stoics and ascetics focus there energy on mastering oneself by self denial. We can all see the truth of this in our own lives, but we can also see that simple self discipline can become it’s own enslavement as one begins to idolize one’s own control. This can lead to pride and an inflexibility that is equally binding.
So where does true freedom come from? Materialists argue that freedom is an illsuion, existentialists argue that “carpe diem” and a rejection of delusions regarding the semblance of meaning is the answer, Neitsche argues that the will to power is the path to freedom. The answer lies in a seeming paradox. True freedom comes when a life is wholly submitted to the God of the universe. We have already seen that freedom as a multitude of choices does not satisfy. In an essay by C.S. Lewis, he likens that version of freedom as trying to play a board game while disregarding any rules. It would be ultimately unsatisfying and pointless to play a game without any structure. In contrast, as we submit to God’s will, we learn self-control and self-denial, but neither become our obsessions. Neither self-control nor self-denial are a goal in themselves, but the path to Love, to serving God.
In my own life, I have seen a particular struggle play out as I have gotten married and become a restaurant manager in the same year. I have less free time than ever and I often find myself desperate to be “free” during my time off. The mistake I make is to think of freedom as the ability to choose to do whatever I desire at that time. I find myself trying to follow every whim to read or watch tv or eat or buy something. Each of these things are then feeding the idol of false freedom. I have found that when, instead, I ask God what He wants me to do with my time or I spend that time serving my wife (by cleaning or spending quality time with her, etc.) I feel truly free. In submission, in serving, in giving up my time, I find life. That hour I spend in devotions, or cleaning the apartment, or loving my wife multiplies my energy and releases me from my fears of not having “enough time.” God has freedom for us all. In our time, in our self-control, in our decision-making, God knows what we need and He pursues men and women who will say yes to Him and fully give up their freedom only to find it resurrected. Whoever seeks to save his freedom will lose it, but he who gives up his freedom for my sake and the sake of the gospel will find it.