Free to Do What?
1 Corinthians 10:23-11:16
This week’s lessons teach us that we do not have unrestricted freedom to do as we please.
The word “freedom” strikes a responsive note in the human heart. In many countries freedom is celebrated nationally. Most nations that, through the course of history, have come to the point where they have been able to declare themselves free from whatever oppressive power may have been over them in the past, commemorate that day. The difficulty with freedom, of course, is that when we try to define it, we discover it is not such an easy thing to do.
Most people, when they talk about freedom, probably have in mind the ability to do anything they want to do. They might say, “If I have freedom and there is some area that is restricted to me so I can’t do what I want to do, then I am not free.” The problem is that life is filled with situations just like that. If I decide to sit down in the first seat of the third pew on the right hand side of the church and somebody else at the same moment decides to do the same, one of us is not going to have freedom where that particular desire is concerned if freedom means “having the ability to do anything you want to do.”
When we begin to talk along these lines, most people agree freedom is always limited by the desire of the other person. If this is the case, it makes nonsense of our definition because as soon as you begin to talk about restrictions – a restriction where somebody else’s desire overlaps with your desire – you no longer have freedom in the original sense of the word. Even apart from other people, it is obvious that we do not have unlimited freedom. Many of us would like to be free to be a lot smarter than we are. Some, who engage in athletic events, would like to have more physical ability than they have. If we are going to talk about freedom in any meaningful sense and, above all, in any spiritual sense – it is quite evident that we have to find another definition.
Some years ago in a session of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformation Theology, Roger Nicole taught on the subject of “Freedom and Law.” This great theologian defined freedom in this way: “Freedom is the ability to attain our destiny, the ability to live up to that which God has created us to do. As soon as you begin to think, not in terms of any desire that may flit through your mind, but rather in terms of that which has already passed through the mind of God, you naturally think about that which concerns the desires of God, the law of God, and the will of God.”
Nicole used a number of illustrations to show what would happen when something that has been created for one purpose takes it upon itself to exercise its supposed freedom in another area. He used the example of a locomotive train. He said if the locomotive says, “I’ve spent many years running up and down these tracks. As I have, I have begun to find my existence rather confining. From time to time, as I go through the countryside, I notice beautiful meadows stretching out into the distance. The scene fills me with the desire to be free. What I would really like to do is leave the tracks and roam about in the meadow.” As Nicole explained, at that moment the locomotive would cease to have motion and instead it would have derailment and loss of freedom.
He used another illustration using a fish that says, “I spend all my life swimming around in the water and I see the same old things all the time. As I poke my head out of the water, I notice there is whole other world. There is land; there are other kinds of animals, and many other interesting things to see. I’d like to be free to come out of the water and explore these things for myself.” As soon as the fish does that, it dies.
How do many people define the word freedom? What is wrong with this definition?
In your own words, tell how Roger Nicole defines the word freedom.
How have you seen freedom abused in this world?