Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Tragedy of Freedom

What is it you think of when you hear the word "freedom?" Aside, I mean, from the American idea of freedom enshrined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Perhaps it is the absence of responsibility or restraint; being able to do whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it.

The Christian view of freedom is of course, much different. One of my favorite analogies is the picture of a ball-field on top of a high mountain. Surrounding the field are jagged and dangerous rocks many feet below, and a raging sea around them. The boys on the field are given a ball and told to play. Free from rules or boundaries, the play is timid at best. The chance that the ball or one of the boys will be lost. Only when a fence is put around the mountain top and some rules applied can the boys enjoy the game.

The Christian knows, or should, that true freedom comes not in giving free reign to the appetites and desires of his heart, but rather to tame them and focus them to right ends. Obedience and self-discipline is the way to true freedom.

Two examples this week of what unrestrained freedom can lead to. I know, i know its almost yesterdays news by now but still...

First in the tragic figure that was Michael Jackson. With talent and creativity to spare he had everything but someone to tell him "no." Growing up with money to burn he indulged every desire, every whim.

"...But he had no compass to find one; no real friends to support and advise him; and money and fame imprisoned him in the delusions of narcissism and self-indulgence. Of course, he bears responsibility for his bizarre life. But the damage done to him by his own family and then by all those motivated more by money and power than by faith and love was irreparable in the end. He died a while ago. He remained for so long a walking human shell. ..." Andrew Sullivan at Theologica

Justin Taylor at the same site, has this to say: (h/t mere comments)

He is dead at the age of 50. He had everything the world offered--but no Jesus.
I remember once looking at the liner notes from an album of his, and he quoted the final lines from William Ernest Henley's famous poem, Invictus:

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Those are not the words you want written on your tombstone.

It is hard to think of a sadder public figure in recent years. A black man who never found his identity as one created in God's image, and who never experienced the identity of being conformed to the image of Christ. Black and white, male and female, rich and bankrupt, genius and punchline, private and public, innocent and deceptive--everything seemed to be jumbled up.The one thing that comes to mind about Jackson is how bad he was at hiding his brokenness. Even while living in a literal fantasy land, it was obvious to everyone that this was a person--enormously gifted--desperately seeking a mask to cover, in futility, who he was.May God use even this to increase our compassion and ministry to the lost, broken, and confused.

The second example is equally tragic, that being Governor Mark Sanford. So blinded by his own selfishness and self serving desire as to throw away a marriage and do untold damage to his sons. By the sound of the e-mails he was dealing with a woman who might have been having her own issues as she mentions in their e-mails, that she may need therapy. A decent man would never have crossed the line, much less with a woman who was having emotional difficulties at the time. Yes, I read the e-mails, to seek out the motivations and to gain some insight, not for prurient reasons. But what I found was the face of sin. How it sullies high emotions and feelings such as love and respect and how it uses scripture to justify it's own way.

I speak from experience, when I was 25 and single and far away from home I met a woman, a married woman, 10 years my senior, at a party. Her husband was not there and we, "hit it off", one might say. It turned out, that the husband was in the Mediterranean having his own affair. I made every mistake that the good Governor made except that I was not married. But she was. And it made no difference that the marriage was already in trouble, the truth is, I assisted in its demise. I know how sin muddles your vision. I know how sin intoxicates and justifies.

Years later while half-heartedly confessing this sorry incident to a friend, I tried to rationalize it away by saying it all worked out for the best in the end, since the marriage was already in trouble and that I "comforted" her in a time of need.

The friend listened patiently and when I was done said simply, "What you said was interesting but it didn't require the Gospel to say it."

I was struck to the core. Thank God for that. If it doesn't take the Gospel to say it, there's nothing particularly "Christian" about it. Likewise, if we find our freedom in any place but through obedience to Christ, we are but the most pathetic of slaves.

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