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Archive for the ‘freedom’ Category

Look at this guy, solitary, upright, clear view to the horizon.  In fact he seems to stand between heaven and earth.  He is the Man, surveying all before him, standing on top of the world.

And which way will he go?  It’s his call.

He is the captain of his soul.  This is man at his most liberated and flourishing isn’t it?  Free to do what he wants any old time.

He’s living the dream.  Which is why the whole scene is shot through with romance – the sun setting idyllically on his sovereign Decision.

But this very modern view of our choices is a ridiculous idyll.  It crumbles under almost any scrutiny and yet it captures the hearts of the whole world – and so many in the church too.

I reckon this false belief in our identity as sovereign choosers is mistake number one when it comes to the issue of guidance.  The whole world seems to believe that what we choose leads to who we are.  And while-ever we believe that then our decisions will be invested with an existential importance they were never meant to carry.

Modern Christians are obsessed with the issue of guidance in a way our forebears just weren’t.  To a certain degree you can explain that as a function of the greater opportunities we have today to shape our lives.  In years gone past a baker’s son was a baker and that was that.  Today he might become a she and move to Thailand.  It’s his/her call!

The options have certainly expanded, but it’s the underlying false belief which invests those options with such weight that they become a burden.  We really think that our choices make us who we are.  We believe we have the power (in ourselves, in our choices) to be self-made men and women – rather than to receive our life and being as a gift.

But a moment’s thought shows how ridiculous the sovereign chooser myth is.

I could tell you some of the story of my life by telling you the choices I’ve made.  I decided to take this job and not this job.  To move to this city at this stage.  But that tells you only a very small amount about me (but, usually, the only part of me that the world is interested in – because we’re all playing the same game).

But what about the bits I didn’t decide.  For instance, my parents never decided to have me – I was an accident, as my sisters would constantly remind me.  I never decided to be born in the 20th century in the West.  I never decided to grow up in Canberra.  Would you have chosen your home town if you had the choice??  I never decided all sorts of things that have made me who I am.

And this is not to mention all the hundreds of decisions I’ve tried to make happen but they never came off.  Those failures have made me who I am too.

Didn’t John Lennon say ‘Life’s what happens to you while you’re busy making plans’?  That’s a good observation.  Life is not found in our choices and plans and strategising.  It happens to us.  We receive it.  And if we simply learnt that lesson, the weight of the guidance issue would lessen significantly.

But what we really need to do is attack the problem at its source.  We need to go to the Scriptures and learn again that what we choose does not make us who we are.  Rather who we are flows out in what we choose.

Take the book of Proverbs for instance.  You might read it and get the impression it’s supporting the world’s wisdom.  It seems to say “Wise people act like this and it’s good.  Fools act like that and it’s bad.”  But on closer inspection you see that the actions flow from being wise or being foolish.  There’s only actually one wise Person – Wisdom.  And one foolish person – Folly.  They both consider humanity to be simple and lacking in judgement (Prov 9:4,16) yet they vie for the hearts of the masses (see Prov 1:20ff; 8:1ff; 9:1ff).  They are portrayed as women – Wisdom like the good wife, Folly like the deceitful adulteress.  And belonging to their respective houses – that’s what constitutes a person wise or foolish.

Then from within those houses the wise and the foolish live out their being.  In the house of the wise you walk with the wise and feast with Wisdom.  You learn her teachings and right choices follow.

So first it’s an affair of the heart as Wisdom woos you.  This constitutes a change of being and then we see a change in will, in choosing, in action.

All of which is just to stress what Luther saw as absolutely critical in his debate with Erasmus.  The moment you make the will the centre of gravity, you lose the gospel.  Our wills are bound.  We do what we want, but we can’t want the right thing until the LORD sweeps us off our feet.  When He changes our hearts, then the will is liberated to act in line with our new hearts.  But to make our very identity depend on our choices is to commit a fundamental theological error.

I’ll write some more on guidance, but for now let’s just emphasize this basic point: we are NOT the choices we have made.  We are who we are in Christ who has wooed and won us and freed us to live in a new way.  In that new way there will be decisions to be made. But relax.  Your life and identity is not found in those plans, it’s found and it’s secure in Christ.

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sermon on guidance in Proverbs.

More on freedom here.

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Freedom and the Problem of Evil

In The Good GodMike Reeves writes briefly on the problem of evil.  A unitarian God would either be threatened by evil or the author of it, but…

The triune God… is the sort of God who will make room for another to have real existence. The Father, who delights to have a Son, chooses to create many children who will have real lives of their own, to share the love and freedom he has always enjoyed. The creatures of the triune God are not mere extensions of him; he gives them life and personal being. Allowing them that, though, means allowing them to turn away from himself – and that is the origin of evil. By graciously giving his creatures the room to exist, the triune God allows them the freedom to turn away without himself being the author of evil.  The Good God, p39-40

This is so helpful in placing “evil” in the context of trinitarian thought.  Let’s take this thought a step further and consider freedom also in triune terms.

Because actually the Christian does not think of “freedom” the same way as the unitarian.  Or at least we shouldn’t!

Often, however, we do conceive of “divine sovereignty” in unitarian terms.  At that point “human freedom” is considered as, ultimately, a fiction or as an escape from God’s all-determining supremacy.  If we imagine God’s sovereignty as uni-directional then it can only bear down on that which is other than God.  In this case God is always determining.  That which is other than God is always being determined.

But what if the Lord has existed in I-Thou relations in eternity?  What if there’s been reciprocity and mutual-determination within God’s being?  And what if, in the determination of this God, the Son becomes Man to draw the creature into these mutual relations?

Well you start to see give-and-take, offer-and-response as something that doesn’t threaten God’s divine nature, but that actually constitutes it!

Freedom, then, is not something opposed to divine sovereignty.  Freedom is finding your place as your distinct self in these relationships.

It’s our distinctness that Mike is highlighting in the quote above.  We do not originate as growths within the divine being.  We are given a concrete and particular existence outside of God.  Our freedom therefore speaks of our genuine other-ness to God.  But we must always say that this otherness is intended as an otherness-in-relation.

Think about it like this:  the Son is definitionally free (since He is “the Son” and not “A Slave”).  But “Son” also speaks of “Obedience” “Likeness” “Sent-ness”.  His freedom is found in relationship with His Father – He is who He is in that union.

The same will be true for our freedom.  We are set free by the Son (John 8:36) – liberated into His Sonship (Galatians 4:4-7).  Therefore it is very much a freedom found in the triune relationships – united to the Son, filled with the Spirit of Adoption, calling on our Abba, Father.  To be outside these relationships is not freedom, it’s slavery.

Therefore we mustn’t define things in such a way that sinning is considered an expression of freedom.  Choosing to reject God is not the exercise of freedom but its opposite.  Rejecting this God means embracing slavery.

Therefore freedom is not centred on the garden of Eden.  It’s bed-rock definition is not ‘our ability to choose evil.’  For a start, that places our freedom above God, and above the freedom of the new creation!  No, as Mike well knows, the freedom he mentions in this quote – i.e. the freedom of “allowance” and “distinctness” – is not the whole story.  We need to go to another garden to find a true definition of freedom.

In Gethsemane the Son submits His will to His Abba, Father to save us slaves who chose the darkness.  And in this submission He expresses His nature as “Son” more clearly than ever.  Here is freedom – here is Man living responsibly before His God and expressing His true identity.  But it’s dripping in the blood, sweat and tears of submission and sacrifice.

All of this is to say that “freedom” does indeed entail God’s allowance of man to turn.  But it’s in no way exhausted or defined by that possibility.  True freedom is upheld by this: when we turned to the darkness, God did not prevent us but pursued us.  As the name implies, it’s redemption rather than creation that makes us free.  It’s ultimately in His decision and act that we find freedom.

 

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Discuss!

 

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Emma blogs about the dilemmas involved in force-feeding an anorexic.

A rights-based culture finds these issues almost impossible.  Can we really violate a person’s sovereign sphere and force them to eat against their own free will!?

It made me think of John Stuart Mill’s account of freedom in On Liberty:

In the part [of the conduct of an individual] which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of course, of right, absolute.  Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

How on earth could Mill ever get a girl to eat?  In fact his words sound exactly like the motto of a pro-ana website!

And people wonder why anorexia is such a western phenomenon!

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The Problem of Freedom [repost]

Freedom

An evocative word.

What does it mean to us?

Usually it means a freedom from some kind of power so that we can realize our true potential.  ‘I’m free to do what I want any old time.’  That kind of thing.

The question of ‘Who is this “I” who can do these things?’ is usually considered to be a restatement of the freedom mantra: I am the one who can do what I want.  “I am who I am / I will be who I will be”, as Someone famously once said.

The link between such an account of freedom and the divinisation of the self becomes obvious in a thinker like John Stuart Mill.  He said this in On Liberty:

In the part [of the conduct of an individual] which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of course, of right, absolute.  Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

Now notice that Mill is concerned here with conduct that ‘merely concerns ourselves’.  He’s well aware that the independent exercise of our wills can harm others and diminish their freedom.  He’s no dummy.  He has a whole apparatus of ‘rights’ with which to negotiate the competing claims of our own absolute freedoms.

When Christians argue against Mill, the argument should not be: “Hey, if everyone thinks they’re sovereign they’ll ride rough-shod over everyone else.”  That would be a very pragmatic objection and one to which Mill has a whole raft of pragmatic solutions.

No, the problem is not what humanity does with their self-rule (they could be thoroughly virtuous with it).  The problem is self-rule.  Mill effectively poses the question, Who has the absolute claim over my life?  He answers: I do.  Mill’s philosophy here (which is the air we breathe in the West) is nothing less than the enthronement of man upon Christ’s throne.

But in critiquing such ‘freedom’ we can do more than simply denounce it as blasphemous.  We would do well also to expose it as the worst kind of bondage.  Why bondage?

Well let’s ask the question,  Who is this self who is exalted to the throne?  Who is the “I” that can do whatever “I” want?

Tellingly, this ‘freedom’ cannot positively give you an identity.  In fact, to be true to itself, this kind of ‘freedom’ must refuse to tell you who you are.  All that such ‘freedom’ can offer is the protection of a sphere in which you can pursue your desires.  It gives you a kingdom (of one!) and a throne and it operates a strict immigration policy.  Yet this border-patrol must not only exclude impediments to your desires, it must also exclude forces that would seek to direct those desires.  It must repel all foreign claims upon you and leave you with an absolute and unquestioned independence.

You have your kingdom and your throne, but who are you?  Well, You will be who you will be.  And so, left to rule your own kingdom, you are a prisoner of your independence.

Consider this piece of advice being given to millions of men and women around the world right now:

“Don’t let anyone tell you what to do.  You’re your own man / your own woman.”

Now aside from the inherent contradiction on show here, notice how you are to be directed in your sovereign rule.  You must direct yourself.  And the reason?  You belong to yourself.   This is the infuriating circularity

I direct myself.

Who is the I who directs?

The one with power to direct.

or

I belong to me.

Who is the one who belongs to me?

The one belonging to me.

What’s missing in all this is an environment in which to exercise our freedom.  We have been treated as though the choices we make in expression of our self-hood are grounded only in ourselves as individuals.  Yet we are who we are in a network of dependent relationships.  The expression of our identity through responsible living and choosing necessarily occurs within an environment.  Divorced from this environment, any experience of ‘freedom’ will actually take us away from our true selves.

This is the experience of the ant-farm in this famous Simpson’s clip…

The ants may have longed to be free from their glass case, but ‘freedom’ from the ant-farm proves to be “horrible” indeed.  It destroys their very selves to be ‘free’ from the environment supportive of their own life and being.

We are the same. We don’t exist as free floating individuals to whom the greatest gift would be independence.  We are truly free when properly related to the environment in which our personhood flourishes.

And this is why Mill’s definition of freedom does not help the exercise of responsible choice, it radically undermines it.  Because I have been stripped of all claims upon me, all direction from outside, all sense of a context wider than me, I am left with a self that can only be defined in reference to itself and its own decision-making capacity.  I have a naked self exercising a naked power, cut free from all that’s actually constitutive of my identity.

Therefore, necessarily, I’m going to have to go outside myself in order to live out my irreducibly relational existence.  I need, so to speak, to make an alliance with a foreign kingdom.

Now our experience of this will feel like it falls into one of two categories:

Either A) I embark on an alliance as a dispensible means towards my self-determined end.  In this case I’ll drop it as soon as it’s inconvenient — I’m in charge using you.

Or B) I genuinely give myself over to the foreign power and am determined by it — You’re in charge using me.

But the bible says, in practice A) is our sinful intention but it always collapses into B).

Let’s think about Ephesians 2:1-3:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.

In our natural state we ‘carry out the desires of the body and mind’.  You might think that sitting on the throne of your little kingdom is the definition of freedom.  But no, precisely as we ‘gratify the cravings’ (NIV) of the body and mind we are following the devil.

Just as we think we are exercising our self-rule, in that act we are being ruled by Satan.  We imagine we’re strong enough to pull off A), in reality we have no bargaining power with the world, the flesh and the devil – they’re in charge using us.

The similarity between Mill’s quotation on freedom and Ephesians 2:3 is chilling.  To exercise ‘sovereignty’ over our ‘body and mind’ is not freedom at all.  According to the bible that is slavery.

If we’re going to find a true freedom it will have to be on an entirely different footing.

More on that later…

Rest of series:

Where to begin?

Freed will

Living free

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I’d like to see a piece of historical theology charting the trajectory of Luther’s thought from The Bondage of the Will right up until his final words.

It should be called:

Choosers can’t be beggars

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Look at this guy, solitary, upright, clear view to the horizon.  In fact he seems to stand between heaven and earth.  He is the Man, surveying all before him, standing on top of the world.

And which way will he go?  It’s his call.

He is the captain of his soul.  This is man at his most liberated and flourishing isn’t it?  Free to do what he wants any old time.

He’s living the dream.  Which is why the whole scene is shot through with romance – the sun setting idyllically on his sovereign Decision.

But this very modern view of our choices is a ridiculous idyll.  It crumbles under almost any scrutiny and yet it captures the hearts of the whole world – and so many in the church too.

I reckon this false belief in our identity as sovereign choosers is mistake number one when it comes to the issue of guidance.  The whole world seems to believe that what we choose leads to who we are.  And while-ever we believe that then our decisions will be invested with an existential importance they were never meant to carry.

Modern Christians are obsessed with the issue of guidance in a way our forebears just weren’t.  To a certain degree you can explain that as a function of the greater opportunities we have today to shape our lives.  In years gone past a baker’s son was a baker and that was that.  Today he might become a she and move to Thailand.  It’s his/her call!

The options have certainly expanded, but it’s the underlying false belief which invests those options with such weight that they become a burden.  We really think that our choices make us who we are.  We believe we have the power (in ourselves, in our choices) to be self-made men and women – rather than to receive our life and being as a gift.

But a moment’s thought shows how ridiculous the sovereign chooser myth is.

I could tell you some of the story of my life by telling you the choices I’ve made.  I decided to take this job and not this job.  To move to this city at this stage.  But that tells you only a very small amount about me (but, usually, the only part of me that the world is interested in – because we’re all playing the same game).

But what about the bits I didn’t decide.  For instance, my parents never decided to have me – I was an accident, as my sisters would constantly remind me.  I never decided to be born in the 20th century in the West.  I never decided to grow up in Canberra.  Would you have chosen your home town if you had the choice??  I never decided all sorts of things that have made me who I am.

And this is not to mention all the hundreds of decisions I’ve tried to make happen but they never came off.  Those failures have made me who I am too.

Didn’t John Lennon say ‘Life’s what happens to you while you’re busy making plans’?  That’s a good observation.  Life is not found in our choices and plans and strategising.  It happens to us.  We receive it.  And if we simply learnt that lesson, the weight of the guidance issue would lessen significantly.

But what we really need to do is attack the problem at its source.  We need to go to the Scriptures and learn again that what we choose does not make us who we are.  Rather who we are flows out in what we choose.

Take the book of Proverbs for instance.  You might read it and get the impression it’s supporting the world’s wisdom.  It seems to say “Wise people act like this and it’s good.  Fools act like that and it’s bad.”  But on closer inspection you see that the actions flow from being wise or being foolish.  There’s only actually one wise Person – Wisdom.  And one foolish person – Folly.  They both consider humanity to be simple and lacking in judgement (Prov 9:4,16) yet they vie for the hearts of the masses (see Prov 1:20ff; 8:1ff; 9:1ff).  They are portrayed as women – Wisdom like the good wife, Folly like the deceitful adulteress.  And belonging to their respective houses – that’s what constitutes a person wise or foolish.

Then from within those houses the wise and the foolish live out their being.  In the house of the wise you walk with the wise and feast with Wisdom.  You learn her teachings and right choices follow.

So first it’s an affair of the heart as Wisdom woos you.  This constitutes a change of being and then we see a change in will, in choosing, in action.

All of which is just to stress what Luther saw as absolutely critical in his debate with Erasmus.  The moment you make the will the centre of gravity, you lose the gospel.  Our wills are bound.  We do what we want, but we can’t want the right thing until the LORD sweeps us off our feet.  When He changes our hearts, then the will is liberated to act in line with our new hearts.  But to make our very identity depend on our choices is to commit a fundamental theological error.

I’ll write some more on guidance, but for now let’s just emphasize this basic point: we are NOT the choices we have made.  We are who we are in Christ who has wooed and won us and freed us to live in a new way.  In that new way there will be decisions to be made. But relax.  Your life and identity is not found in those plans, it’s found and it’s secure in Christ.

.

A sermon on guidance in Proverbs.

More on freedom here.

.

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