In my last post I suggested that perhaps American life has lost its imaginative capacities to dream that the abundance of life lies in something deeper than merely being free FROM the tyranny of outside threat or having someone make decisions for us. I have been suggesting that real freedom lies in being free FOR something. That ‘something’ is a concrete vision of “human flourishing” – a vision of the good life. I also suggested that we will never be truly “free” until we learn that our own individual freedom is contingent upon our neighbor’s freedom. We cannot live abundantly apart from their own abundance. Contrary to the narratives spun by a competitive marketplace, sharing, giving, forgiving, and helping are vital to our own liberation and freedom. Without these virtues we will never be free.
But what do we do when things do not work out well? Surely if we become vulnerable, as I suggest we should, we will get hurt! I cannot deny this reality. It is simple fact that authentic love requires vulnerability, vulnerability leaves you subject to hurt. Or another way of saying it – if you love your neighbor as you love yourself, you will not always be loved in return.
But effectiveness will not work as a moral calculus. We cannot determine whether or not love is the right way forward based on the same grading scale you use to balance our income sheets. Instead, we must live in hope.
Hope is different than optimism. Optimism says “Good things are coming! One day something big is going to happen for me/us!” But hope orients itself around the idea that good things are already happening – even when the odds are stacked against it. The difference between optimism and hope is action.
I love this scene from Shawshank Redemption. Andy Dufrane clues us into something that we forget is true until we see it in someone else. That is, our freedom does not depend upon the externals. The obvious agenda of the Shawshank Redemption story is to show us that it is possible to be in prison and be free (i.e. Andy Dufrane), and it is possible to be externally free yet be a prisoner (i.e. Brooks Hatlen).
I point this out to us this week for a reason – a reason that I believe is urgent and important. Tomorrow, when we gather as a community of Americans to celebrate our independence, I want us to be mindful (especially us Christians) that independence is not the same thing as authentic freedom. Independence from external forces that enslave and imprison is not all that is required to set a person free. In fact, the irony of Saint Paul’s gospel preaching is this – you are either a slave to sin and death, or you are a slave to the restorative justice of the kingdom of God. (Romans 6:15-23)
I am not ignorant to the fact that holistic freedom involves both the liberation FROM enslavement and FOR the abundant life of human flourishing. But tomorrow, may we remember that true freedom requires a certain dependence and is not satisfactorily freedom until it lives in HOPE. The interesting thing about Saint Paul’s little section on slavery in Romans 6 is that to live in slavery to the restorative work of setting the world right again, requires HOPE that God will vindicate such a life of slavery.