No matter what era we visit, we will discover people demanding more freedom. Freedom of conscience. Freedom of movement. Freedom of speech. Freedom is something that occupies our thoughts and feelings at all times, in all places, even when it's not expressed in words as a yearning for more choices. But there is also no greater cause of suffering for us than freedom. When freedom is presented as a Christian ideal, we not only induce our own suffering, we also incur God's wrath.
Jesus suffered an excruciating crucifixion motivated by love for all those whom he created. But when that is read as an example of how to use our freedom, to sacrifice ourselves for the sin of others, we end up with the crushing realization that to “take up our cross” means that we are now responsible for the guilt of everyone, everywhere, at all times. Now all the guilt and suffering – not just of all believers, but of all people, even that of Adam and Eve through the original sin – is a weight that crushes us. Some weights were never meant for us to lift, such as the freedom to choose between good and evil.
When we cry out for freedom, we don't mean we want to make a new beginning. We want the freedom to choose what is good for us and to avoid what we consider evil. We want to be free from the possibility of sin.
We want the freedom to begin at the end. Freedom from consequence. Freedom to choose what we want without having to worry about taking responsibility for what we choose to think, say, and do. This is why social media has seduced just about all of us. It is a forum that is virtually “free” and overpopulated with "keyboard warriors" as they're called where one can post whatever can be imagined with very little to any real-world consequences. Social media offers us freedom from goodness and evilness, freedom to choose whatever truth works for us, freedom from having to confront the tragedy of what happens to sinners when they're set free on a social media platform. And all this supposed freedom produces remarkable suffering. We fail to consider that virtual reality is just that: a fake, fictional reality of someone else's making that is sold to us as a reality we create for ourselves. Free from imperfections. Free from flesh and blood relations. Free from goodness, truth, and evil.
We are naturally drawn to any forum – whether it's community theater, a bowling league, or social media – that provides life for us free from the Spirit's preachers. We desire a life free from God's Word, free from Jesus, free from the Father's justice. Why? So we can shed our mortality, sloughing off our mortal bodies with their constant demands for earthly, temporary satisfaction so that we can fashion ourselves into supermen and superwomen. We do this because we want to not only live apart from God (until we need to paint ourselves into a corner with our choices and need to be bailed out), we want to be gods. This was, I imagine, the appeal to the daughters of men, of copulating with angels as it's written in Genesis 6. If we cannot become actual gods and goddesses, our children can be demigods at the very least!
As baptized sinners, we are like Kirilov in Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel, Crime and Punishment. Without the Spirit's preachers, we default to an attitude that says, “If God exists, then everything is his will, and I cannot do anything with my own outside of his will." It's all God's responsibility, whether I do good or evil. [But], if there is no God, then everything is my will and I must express my will.”
This amazing arrogance comes from the absolute lack of faith in Christ. Instead, we have faith in ourselves, and thus confess: “If I am doing this, and I am choosing between good and evil, then I must not only be like God, I must eventually, with enough practice, become a god.” “Yes," Kirilov admits, "I will become God.”
But no amount of belief can relieve the consequence of our seeking after freedom, that our quest leads inevitably, and always, to suffering. We may be like God knowing good and evil, but on account of our selfish natures, what God calls evil we call good, and what God calls good we define as evil. Therefore, what we call freedom, God calls his wrath. As the apostle wrote in Romans chapter one, what does God's wrath feel like? Free will: "He gave them over to the cravings of their hearts” (Rom. 1:24).
All is not doom and gloom for us because there is a solution. The only solution to free will is the announcement from a preacher that the Father forgives us for Christ's sake. The Father's justice is Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sin, a new life, and the hope of eternal salvation.
The paradox of Christ's cross is that our free will is revealed as God's wrath which leads to our abandonment by God while, at the same time, Jesus' bloody suffering and death, pronounced and applied to us by a preacher, sets us free to be children of our heavenly Father.
In Christ, and only in relation to Christ, are we truly free. Free as the Spirit sets us free, with Jesus Christ's words declared and applied to us by a preacher. True freedom is that which suffers Jesus' death for the sin of the world, freedom that suffers because the world hates Christ. It’s freedom in Christ to serve and sacrifice for our neighbor's sake without worrying about whether we've earned God's judgment or God's rewards.
Jesus Christ's death and resurrection are applied to us by the Spirit's preachers to set us free. Preaching destroys our theories about how one becomes like God, or a little god, a demigod, a superman, or a superwoman. We are only ever truly free in relation to the forgiveness pronounced in Jesus' name to us; a pronouncement that washes over us in baptism and slides down our throats at the Lord's Supper.
Christ is freedom, the only true freedom this world can and will ever know, and we baptized sinners are therefore free in Christ. Free to trust, love, hope for all good things, receive all good things and shielded and delivered from all evil by our Heavenly Father, on account of the Son, through the preaching of the Holy Spirit.