“Make Me a Captive Lord” by George Matheson (Hymn 604 in Together in Song) is a brilliant summary of Christian freedom.
Make me a captive, Lord,
and then I shall be free;
force me to render up my sword,
and I shall conqueror be.
I sink in life’s alarms
when by myself I stand;
imprison me within thine arms,
and strong shall be my hand.
My heart is weak and poor
until it master find;
it has no spring of action sure,
it varies with the wind.
It cannot freely move,
till thou hast wrought its chain;
enslave it with thy matchless love,
and deathless it shall reign.
My will is not my own
till thou hast made it thine;
if it would reach a monarch’s throne,
it must its crown resign;
it only stands unbent
amid the clashing strife,
when on thy bosom it has leant,
and found in thee its life.
“There are two freedoms: the false, where a man is free to do as he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought.” (Charles Kingsley)
Christianity seems to turn the definition of freedom on its head, but it doesn’t really. Freedom still means the same thing, but Christianity broadens the range of that which limits freedom to include all of those forces that act upon us unconsciously. Given that most of our decisions are unconscious, we are often at the mercy of the many things, of which we are unaware, that imprison us. In other words, we think we have a free choice on some matter, but we actually are following the dictates of a ‘gaoler’ hidden in our unconcious mind.
For example, to take an anti-refugee position with regard to ‘boat people’, and support their incarceration offshore on Manus Island and Nauru, is completely indefensible for a follower of Jesus. Anyone with even a limited understanding of Christianity knows this, including our church-going Prime Minister, yet many Christians take this position. Why? Of course, they have their rationalisations, their practical arguments, but they choose them because they are not free to follow Jesus’ way on this matter. The primary force limiting their freedom is fear: of what they might lose, of terrorists, criminals, unemployment, the ‘other’, etc, or, in the case of politicians, fear of not being re-elected.
Or consider our charitable giving, both as individuals and as a nation. Unless you are a very unusual person, you don’t give as much as you could, and you also might be one of those who even supports the exceeding stinginess of the federal government’s overseas aid budget. Again, your freedom is limited by fear. In this case, it is a fear of not having enough, operating beyond the limits of your self-awareness.
True freedom comes when you have sufficient faith to overcome all the fears that restrict and imprison you, especially the ones over which you have no control because you are not conscious of them.
Given our knowledge about the danger of climate change, why are most people still living life styles that exacerbate the problem? We live in big houses, prefer driving instead of using public transport, eat too much meat, fly away to the other side of the world on holidays, and create far too much waste. Despite our best intentions, we are not free to live more simply, and the factors that constrain our freedom are many and varied.
For example, you may not have had sufficient food when you were an infant due to your mother’s inexperience or lack of breast milk. Perhaps you were deprived of attention or had experiences in which you felt a failure. Maybe your older siblings picked on you or you grew up in poverty or, as an adolescent, you worried you were not good looking enough or smart enough or talented enough. Now in our adulthood, unconsciously, we are still trying to compensate through the acquisition of ‘stuff’. What is the antidote? We are freed by faith, knowing we are the beneficiaries of a providential God, just as are the lilies in the field and the birds of the air. (See Luke 12:22-32)
Once one reaches the level of faith development of Jesus, and understands the truth of the so-called Great Paradox, one is blessed with the ultimate freedom to do God’s will, This is the primary characteristic of eternal life (see the definition of “eternal” elsewhere in this glossary): all self-concern will have departed, all fear is negated by faith, and one lives in absolute freedom for the well-being of the other and for the whole creation. In this state, all of the factors that previously limited freedom are rendered impotent. This is Christian freedom. (See “Stage 6” in “Stages of Faith” elsewhere on this website)