With ‘shelter in place’ restrictions in effect, and with most of the places where we would normally go being closed, many have said that home, during this season of the virus, has felt at times like a prison. We also have seen where some claim that their freedom is unlawfully being restricted by stay-home orders and closed businesses.
The topic of freedom is on our minds today, as we try to work our way through the lifestyle challenges and economic effects of the pandemic. But we do so with the knowledge that millions in our world today are denied the basic freedoms that we enjoy, including those who are trapped in the dehumanizing practice of human slavery.
The concept of freedom is addressed at length in Scripture, beginning early on when we are told of God liberating the people from slavery in Egypt and bringing them to a land of their own. Throughout their history, the nation of Israel was conquered by foreign powers, including during Jesus’ life when the Roman Empire reigned across the world. Paul and other early followers were often imprisoned by that same Roman government, and many were executed over their belief in the risen Christ.
Against this historical backdrop, Scripture also tells us about the nature of true freedom. Writing from prison, Paul proclaimed that he was a prisoner to no one but Christ, and that “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2nd Corinthians 3:17)
So for us, it comes down to this: we believe in freedom as a basic human right, and we also embrace the spiritual freedom that God gives us. Freedom of the body and of basic life determination is essential, and should not be denied any person. At the same time, God also gives us the great gift of freedom of the Spirit.
This freedom of the spirit allows us to be liberated from our self-imposed chains. We are freed from slavery to self, from the endless need to prove ourselves. We are freed from exaggerated love of self, or hatred of self. We are freed from destructive self-talk and habits that cripple us and keep us from accepting the care and friendship of others. We are freed from the temptation to practice hate and cynicism. In short, our spirits are set free by love.
Maya Angelou wrote about this in her poem, “Touched By An Angel.” She writes:
We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.
We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.
For us, we are reminded of what Paul knew, writing from prison, and what countless others have known throughout history. We know that true freedom is found in the boundless, persistent, liberating love that Christ offers.
A song for today is found in a new version of “Amazing Grace” written a few years ago by Chris Tomlin. To the old classic he adds this refrain:
My chains are gone, I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace.
Ending slavery and oppression is our duty, and as we are free we are called to free others. Proclaiming release to the captives is our great good news, knowing that, as John tells us, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Thanks be to God. Amen.