Freedom That Disturbs
Today we face a crisis in regards to freedom. Our country is betraying itself and is stripping away one freedom after another in the name of supposed securit can be extremely quick to be very defensive when it comes to my own rights and freedoms and can even become angry or aggressive about protecting them. What I am referring to is how ready I am to come to the defense of other people's freedoms particularly when they come under threat from me.
Like most people, I want others to love me and I want to form close, healthy bonds with people. Yet in my desires to make attachments to others I far too often slip into habits of subtle coercion or may be tempted to lay guilt trips on people who don't conform to what I want in our relationship. There are so many little ways that we use to try to get our way with people that are out of harmony with God's ways of relating, yet we are so used to using these methods that we seldom realize how much they violate other people's freedom to turn away from a relationship with us.
I am learning that most all of these dysfunctional ways of trying to relate to others are rooted in false ideas about how God relates to me. My heart is still infected with many lies and false assumptions about what God is like and how He feels about me. These deeply embedded internal lies, most of them subconscious, infect all of my other relationships and influence how I try to form new ones and how I react in various situations. The principle of transformation into the image of the God we worship – imaging – always results in acting out like the kind of God our heart believes in, whether that image is accurate or terribly distorted. To put this another way, the way we treat people reveals the way we perceive God treats us and is often an opportunity to catch glimpses into the deeper hidden recesses of our souls.
I cringe when I think of some of the major blunders I have committed that have deeply damaged my relationships with others and wounded people's hearts. Yet when I analyze why I did those things when I knew I didn't have intentions of trying to hurt them, I can always trace it back to mistaken notions about life and about my hidden feelings about how God views me. I have so much yet to learn about the real truth about God and how He relates to sinners, and that lack of understanding keeps showing up in the malfunctioning of my own life that at times reeks havoc in my relationships with others.
This idea of living in complete freedom in the presence of God is somewhat new to me and quite foreign to most religions including the one I grew up within. We sometimes talk about this freedom, but then we can easily turn around and also teach about a God who is controlling us or threatening us if we step out of line with His commands. But the existence of threats of punishment are really incompatible with true freedom, for threats and intimidation banish love from the heart. Only in real freedom, the kind of freedom that allows one to walk away from a relationship without fear of reprisals, can real love and appreciation for the other party begin to develop.
As I am coming to perceive that God is really the kind of God who respects my freedom as one of His highest priorities, it causes me to begin to perceive how much I lack in this area myself. By contrast I am starting to catch a little glimpse of how much I manipulate relationships with others, how much I try to manage my reputation by withholding select information for fear someone will not like me, how much I try to pressure people to like me even through use of devious means at times. I rationalize, I sometimes resort to subtle deceptions that I excuse as legitimate because my intentions are good. But all of this awareness simply exposes more internal lies about how I secretly feel God treats me.
Rather than running away from these revelations or moving into denial of them from feelings of shame, I can alternatively view these exposures as opportunities to go deeper into my own soul, to invite Jesus to bring healing to my own woundedness that causes me to act out in these dysfunctional ways and to show me more of the truth about what He is really like. If the root cause of all my dysfunction is rooted in incorrect concepts of God and how He feels about me, then the only effective solution that can accomplish any long-term repair must come through knowing God for myself much better. I need to see more clearly how much He values my freedom and the freedom of everyone else around me. I need to see how much He respects all of us and allows us to turn away from Him without the slightest hint of taking offense Himself.
Is God grieved when we turn away from Him? Absolutely! But in His grief and pain God does not react the way we often react under similar situations. Jesus demonstrated this clearly in His response when the rich young ruler walked away from His invitation to follow Him. Jesus did not pursue this young man or threaten him with dire consequences if he did not take Jesus' advice for him. He simply absorbed the deep pain that this lost relationship caused His own heart without resorting to any of the common reactions we might easily try to use to get the man to reconsider his choice.
While it is true that God will stop at nothing to convey to us how much He desires an intimate friendship of love with us and wants to save us, that does not translate into crossing the line into violating any of our freedoms at any time. Without complete freedom to reject Him we can never come to the place where we can truly begin to love Him. This is the most powerful attraction about God that most Christians miss. We have become so blinded by insinuations about Him perpetrated by His enemies and even many of His friends that we continue to miss this most important characteristic about Him. Yet God's love can only be truly appreciated and experienced if there is complete freedom to not embrace it.
But some may wonder how this can provide a sufficient deterrent to prevent sin from rising up again after it has been put down in the great Day of Judgment. But this concern itself betrays a lack of understanding about this truth, for our perceptions of how God goes about resolving the sin problem in the end distorts our ideas of how it will be prevented from reoccurring. But when we believe and teach that God must resort to using force, threats of coercion and punishment or any other of Satan's tools to accomplish the final end of rebellion, then we are still deceived by Satan's lies about God and misunderstand the true power of God's respect for complete freedom.
Contrary to public opinion, God is not going to overcome sin by resorting to force in the end to institute fear in the hearts of His subjects so they will never again rebel against Him. Those are methods of His enemy and are completely incompatible with the love that is the very essence of His being. If He had wanted to take that route He could have done that long ago. But true love involves true freedom and the two must always be present for the other to exist. This is a vital truth that has been missing from most of Christianity since soon after the early church experienced explosive growth because of a clearer understanding of this principle. The way Jesus treated people with complete freedom and respect was emulated by those early disciples and was so powerful that it initiated rapid growth in the early church for a time. But it was not long before human ideas and methods began to dilute the clear truth about God that had brought about such power in the early church, and as human elements and traditions took greater prominence the Spirit of God had less influence in the church.
Today we have returned to the kind of religion more in line with the legalism of the Jews during Jesus' day or in some cases the paganism of the Greeks who had all sorts of philosophical ideas about the supernatural and life in general. The pure truth about God and how He feels about sinners has largely been lost and has been replaced with institutionalized religion teaching many things about God but largely lacking in real relationship with Him. I believe this is partly due to our lack of appreciation for this fundamental truth about God's respect for our individual freedom and its vital relationship to love.
Paul, a man who was a loyal institutional policy man if ever there was one, who practiced methods of coercion, threats and force to accomplish God's will as he understood it – this same man after he caught a glimpse of the real truth about God was so totally transformed by it that he later expressed God's viewpoint when he wrote that each person should be fully persuaded in his own mind. (Romans 14:5) Paul went from being a zealot bent on using force to keep people in line with 'the truth' to being ready to lay down his own life for those who disagreed with him. (Romans 9:1-5) This is the effect that the truth about God will always have in the heart of those who take hold of it.
Revelation 18:1 talks about a time when the glory of God is going to fill the whole earth. I have come to believe over the past few years that this glory that will become evident to every heart in this planet is the real truth about how God treats us and feels about us and respects our freedom to respond to Him or reject Him. When the real truth about this God, who never resorts to the tactics of His enemy but always seeks to win our hearts back into a life-receiving relationship with Him – when this truth takes hold in our hearts, the resultant power that will be released will become overwhelming. But at the same time the clarity of this revelation will produce an intensity of animosity that will be aroused in those rejecting this view of God in preference for a more stern deity who relies on threats and coercion to secure compliance to His demands. These will rise up to persecute all who dare to embrace this strange new teaching. The stage will then be set for a final showdown between the real truth about God and the false beliefs about Him that now shape most people's thinking and constitute the fundamentals of all major religions as we know them.
As far as the future security of the universe is concerned, it is God's respect for our freedom that will be the most important element that will keep us in love with God and will prevent us from ever desiring to walk away from Him again. Far from relying on fear to keep us in line throughout eternity, God intends to have a universe completely free of all fear but rather filled with the joy of knowing that God's ways really are the best ways and we have only peace and joy by living in complete submission to His beautiful will for us. When we come to truly appreciate the fierce intensity of God's respect for our freedom to choice Him or reject Him without fear of reprisal, then we will tap into the deepest and most lasting motivation to enter into a saving, loving relationship with Him that will continue to grow and thrive throughout all eternity. This freedom and love will become the guardian of our security for ages to come, but it needs to become the security that we begin to experience now, both with God and in our dealings with each other.