~ On Human Freedom~
“It is merely for freedom that Christ has set us free….” Galatians 5:1
Dear Members and Friends,
Have you ever heard this old Chinese parable? A farmer’s workhorse ran away. The neighbors said, “What bad luck!” The farmer answered, “Perhaps.” The next day, the workhorse came back, followed by a wild horse that it befriended. The farmer now owned two horses. His neighbors said, “What good luck!” The farmer answered, “Perhaps.” The next day, the farmer’s son tried to tame the new horse, but it kicked the boy and broke his leg. The neighbors said, “What bad luck!” The farmer answered, “Perhaps.” The next day, imperial officers came through the countryside, seizing young men to serve as soldiers in the emperor’s army. But a boy with a broken leg was no use to them. The neighbors said, “What good luck!” The farmer answered, “Perhaps.”
This parable illustrates a truth: Unfortunate occurrences often have some benefits, just as good fortune usually comes at some cost. For example, our vegetable garden was a success this year, but that came at some cost in terms of time, and energy, and material investment. We took several great family trips this summer, but that too came at a cost, for it meant neglecting things at home. We added a nice deep porch to the side of our house. (I hope you’ll come and see it at the Harvest Party on October 10.) I’ve always wanted a porch—not a deck or a patio, but a real porch, like you’d see in Mayberry, with a metal roof and banisters. I love it. But that came at a cost, too…believe me.
What I don’t like about the Chinese parable is its passive characters. They’re just waiting around for good or bad luck to befall them. If this were a modern American story, the emphasis would not be on “luck” but on each person’s responsibility and freedom. The guy who lost the horse would have gone looking for it! He would have lassoed the wild horse all by himself! And his son would have enlisted in the army, broken leg and all, no need for a draft! Dwelling on human freedom reminds me of all that I chose not to do this summer: scraping and painting the trim around the windows; planting a small orchard; building a new fence to keep the neighbors’ dogs away. Maybe next year.
One of the richest benefits of being human is our beautiful, terrible freedom. We may feel restricted by all the duties of grownup life, but consider the immeasurable, almost frightening degree of freedom we enjoy. We get to choose how and where to spend our time, how and whether to spend our money, what to think about, what to wear, whether to fill our days with silence or noise, and what kind. We get to decide whether we’ll share ourselves, or hoard ourselves, or speak, or fall silent. Each day, we make choices out of that wonderful, risky freedom, a freedom that is at once our blessing and our curse.
The Epistle to the Galatians says it nicely, “It is merely for freedom that Christ has made us free.” It’s just one of the many glories of our humanity: we’re free. Yes, time and chance happen to us all, as the old parable suggests. But our daily lot is this profound freedom to choose our actions. It’s a limited freedom, but vast, daily, constant. We can choose to be miserly or generous. We can choose to be receptive or closed. We can choose to reach outward or inward. Each moment of every day is filled with freedoms that we never even consider. And so, let me ask this: Knowing that you are free; that you have more choices at your disposal than you’ve ever imagined; that your freedom in Christ is just one of the perks of being you…what do you plan to do with this moment that you’ve been given?
In Christ’s Peace,