Chapter 1 Freedom

Political - Freedom from oppression
Religions - Freedom from legalism
Psychological - Freedom to be and do
Influence - Freedom to intercede

I will be using four quite different meanings of the words 'free' and 'freedom' in this book, so in this chapter I must try to distinguish them. From Wittgenstein I learned that we must first be clear about the form of life that we are engaging in, and then we should pick up the language game of the words we are using in that context (Philosophical Investigations, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1967, sections 7, 19, 23, 241, p.174). For example if we are discussing political freedom in a democracy as opposed to a totalitarian system, there is hopeless confusion if we introduce questions about the freedom to engage in personal prayer.

Another insight from Wittgenstein is that definitions and labels can only be given precision in mathematics, and even then there will always come a point when there can be uncertainty. Each of the four kinds of freedom in this chapter can run into one another at the edges. A totalitarian system can prevent or enforce religious rules and practices. On the other hand if intercessory prayer is effective, it will affect political situations, and the psychological problems of others. The pursuit of unassailable definitions is a chore for thesis writers. So we will work with the ordinary language of imprecision.

As pointed out in the Introduction I will not be discussing Freedom of Choice. People in all nations assume that we can choose to do this or that. The moral judgments we make, and all judicial systems, depends on the fact that humans exercise some freedom of choice. Obviously we allow for special cases such as people who are drunk, drugged, deranged, brainwashed, or hypnotized. But in millions of situations every day in any modern city we have to assume that people are free to drive on the right or the left, obey traffic signals, keep contracts, buy and sell, decide who to phone, avoid telling lies, love, and pray, etc.

So I will avoid engaging in the philosophical questions of whether our choices are caused or uncaused, known in advance by God, or predestined, how we can be morally responsible, etc. (for an excellent outline of such questions see Terrance Tiessen, Providence and Prayer, InterVarsity Press, 2000). In the Bible it is taken for granted that we make choices. And ordinary people live their lives without the permission of philosophical theories.

Political - Freedom from oppression

Under the term political freedom I will include the whole range of government from a totalitarian system down to a city administration, and even the rules that govern a family unit. Freedom is first the enjoyment of one's family and work and food and drink and fun occasions. Ordinary people are terrified of anarchy, but they care little about theories of Monarchy, Oligarchy, and Democracy, unless they feel oppressed. It is then they begin longing for political freedom.

People can sense themselves free in a dictatorship that preserves the freedoms they consider important for their lives. Others are set to destroy a democracy to achieve their own agenda. And an individual can feel terribly oppressed in a household that stifles his or her creative freedom. In the Bible the monarchy of the kings of Israel and Judah is often described as failing disastrously. But King David can also be pictured as a shepherd who cares for his people.

As we proceed we will see that the Old Testament is mainly concerned with political freedom. The Exodus remains the great example of a people being freed from cruel slavery. The book of Judges is about leaders raised up to liberate their people. And then we see how the prophetic books again and again picture God's interventions to topple oppressive nations, and free or restore others to enjoy their political freedom. As opposed to one form of Liberation Theology which we will call Christianity in Marxist clothing, there is not one call in the prophets to mount a crusade against others or take up arms against oppressive powers. In all cases the prophets recommend looking to the LORD (King, Sovereign over the nations) who will effect the nation's liberation in his own time and in his own way. He certainly uses armies to effect his purposes of judgment (as in Joel 3:9-10), but then the armies he has used can be toppled for wrong use of their power (as with Babylon in Isaiah 13:18-19).

In the New Testament we will note very little concern for political freedom. Tax collectors are not excluded because they work for the Roman empire. Occupying army officers can come to faith. It is possible that Judas felt he had to betray Jesus because he was not the kind of political Messiah that the Jewish people were looking for. Paul wrote "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God" (Romans 13:1).

Religions - Freedom from legalism

Where a religion is able to attain political control of a nation it can force people to engage in certain religious practices and deny freedom of worship to others. The Christian church often had this power before the Reformation, and for a time Protestants continued this kind of control where they could. Calvin established a theocratic state, and the Anglican church was able to force the imprisonment of dissenters like John Bunyan. Islam also has a long history of not allowing dissent. Where that is the case ordinary people long for political and democratic freedom.

It is a quite different situation when people are politically free to practice their religion but they are persuaded to obey rules that God never had in mind for them. In the Gospels we will see that this was the kind of legalism that Jesus attacked when he freed ordinary people from the burdens of Pharisee religion. They had no political power but "they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others" (Matthew 23:4). Paul was horrified when the church in Galatia abandoned the freedom Jesus had given them, and reverted to legalism. That seems to have happened by a free choice under the influence of legalistic teachers. In our day we can observe that this kind of legalism often follows an experience of charismatic freedom.

A more serious loss of freedom is where people are persuaded that God demands certain kinds of rules and behavior, and those who do not submit will certainly burn in hell. This idea is part and parcel of both fundamentalist Islam and some forms of Christian faith. We will see that there is no reference to eternal damnation in the Old Testament, and the references to hell in the Gospels are due to a misunderstanding of the word gehenna. The burning rubbish dump over the south wall of Jerusalem certainly gives a metaphorical picture of terrible consequences, but the consequences for sexual sins and child abuse are temporal here in this life. God does not send anyone to be tortured in a literal hell for ever. And once people are freed from this monstrous idea, they are also freed from trying to obey rules for fear of eternal damnation. As in C.S.Lewis' Great Divorce, God wants all of us into the love of heaven, but he also leaves us free to reject heaven to choose the eternal darkness and death (as in John 3:19-21). Any kind of spiritual discipline, worship, and service should be a free response to the love of God. It must never be motivated by fear.

Psychological - Freedom for our longings

I have called this kind of freedom psychological because this is what a huge army of psychologists and counselors aim to provide in North America. Obviously they have an important function, and they are able to solve a range of human problems by wise advice. As we will see, especially in John's Gospel, this is the kind of psychological freedom that Jesus offers. "If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:31). And Paul has no doubt that the fruit of being freed by the Spirit is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). Obviously those nine fruits (or the eight fruits of love) would free most people from a mass of mental anguish and oppression.

In addition to that basic Christian freedom we will note the psychological freedom of belonging to a community of the Spirit, having gifts to exercise in the body of the Messiah, mutual submission and mutuality in marriage. Most important of all we have the freedom of being able to face our own death with the certainty of resurrection.

Influence - Freedom to intercede

We will be concluding this book on freedom with a final chapter on prayer. And the fourth section of that is titled Openness : Freedom to influence situations. If we are atheists or deists there is obviously no God to influence. On the other hand most people hope to influence their own family and others by their example, by what they create, and build and leave behind, the wisdom of what they said, what they write. Even without faith in God people send each other good wishes, and their longings for a sick child or partner are hardly distinguishable from prayer.

In addition to that basic kind of natural influence, we have seen in the previous section that people who pray obviously believe that God hears them, and that others are helped, healed, supported by their intercessions. Many believe that this happens according to the will of God, but without actually changing his mind. We will look at our freedom to influence the future by intercessory prayer both in the Old Testament and in Paul's Epistles. At first sight this form of freedom seems inconceivable, but we will suggest that this is part of the original intention of the three Persons of the Trinity: "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness" (Genesis 1:26).

Chapter 2  Old Testament