So, on July 4th and some of the other holidays where patriotism in America soars, I pay attention to the wording and rhetoric. I tend to notice that the language tends to talk about our freedom as coming from our country and from our founding fathers’ definitions of what this country would be all about. But I do find that troubling from my understanding of the Bible and even some of the principles expressed in our founding documents.
What I get from the Bible is that our freedom is not provided by the country where we live, but rather a gift from God. Freedom cannot be given by our country, only protected or limited, preserved or forfeited by a country’s actions to exert power over individuals. In fact, there are countries, other institutions, and even individuals who seek to limit our exercise of freedom. But the Bible talks clearly about our freedom as a gift from God.
Consider the story of Adam and Eve’s fall from perfection and grace. Their relationship with God was based in the freedom He extended to them–they had the run of the garden and could choose whatever they wanted to do, even to be the very first to go against God and sin. (See Genesis 1, 2, and 3 to get the gist…) That freedom to choose God and His ways, or not, is one of the fundamental aspects of freedom in our world. Or for a step further, look at Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (NIV) The most important freedom is certainly the freedom Jesus won on the cross and in rising from the dead–a freedom I abuse and treat as cheap far too regularly. John 8:32 tells us “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (NIV) We are set free when we embrace the truth that Jesus’ death on the cross has fully paid for our sins and His resurrection from the dead promises us the same restoration of true and rich life.
If you think about all of the freedoms our government offers, like religion and speech and press and assembly and the rest, they arise from a deep understanding of what the freedom God offers really means and how it can be manifested in the world. The Declaration of Independence stated that it was “self-evident” that we were “endowed by their (our) creator with certain inalienable rights…” and “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men…” The document truly recognizes the government as an institution to protect and preserve the freedom we’ve already received from God. And when it came to the writing of the Constitution, the states and framers were very quick to recognize that all of the work they’d done to set up government was too unfettered to ensure the freedom of the population. So the very first amendment proposed, immediately upon ratification of the Constitution itself, was all about protecting our freedoms.
So, on July 4th, I’m thankful for a God who gave me freedom, for a country set up to protect my freedoms, and for all of those who’ve fought and labored to preserve those protections. And I thank God for the ways His grace and providence continue to offer me freedom in spite of who I am and what I do. Excellent and Amen!