We value freedom quite highly here in the States. We make it one of our highest goals to obtain freedom for everyone.
Freedom is a noble and worthy goal, isn’t it? It is a good that we as Christ-followers support, right? Even Jesus, after all, speaks of setting us free.
Many of us who have grown up in the States have become confused about what freedom means. We think that freedom means living without limits, being able to make our own choices, casting off all restraint.
This is not freedom. This is autonomy. Autonomy is a very different thing.
So what is freedom? In the world of Jesus, what does freedom mean?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about freedom in Creation and Fall, his commentary on the first few chapters of Genesis. He speaks of us being created in the image of the Triune God says that one of the implications of this is that we are meant to be relational beings. Being created as relational beings means that we are dependent. Dependent on God and dependent on each other.
This freedom we are given by being made in God’s image is, Bonhoeffer says, “a relation and nothing else. To be more precise, freedom is a relation between two persons. Being free means ‘being-free-for-the-other’, because I am bound to the other. Only by being in relation with the other am I free.”
Yes, we are free, but free within our relationships. Yes, we are free, but it is a freedom with limits, a freedom with boundaries. It is a freedom that only makes sense within the context of our relationships.
It is the sort of freedom that a cellist in an orchestra has.
A cellist who asserts her autonomy while playing a Rachmaninoff symphony will only cause sour notes and chaos. A cellist who asserts her freedom within the confines of the orchestral relationships around her creates art and beauty. She is free to bring out the best within herself only because she willingly submits herself to the limits of the piece and the limits placed by the conductor.
Insisting on and clinging to our autonomy creates only sour notes and chaos.
Being set free, however, asserting our freedom for those around us…
This gives beauty, peace, joy. This kind of freedom is what brings out our best, most true selves.
Art credits: Bonhoeffer plaque from Wiki Commons; Cellist photo from Amanda Wen