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What Freedom Means and Absolutely Never Means

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On a layover to Israel, we stopped in Philadelphia. We visited the Rocky steps (yes, I ran them), Betsy Ross’ house, and Ben Franklin’s grave. But I most enjoyed Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

What Freedom Means and Never Means

(Photo by Trent Yarnell)

There’s nothing like standing where history happened. It reminds us that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were more than just names in a history book or faces on our money. They really lived.

On July 4, 1776, in Independence Hall, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, in which the second paragraph famously begins:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.

Independence Hall interior

(Photo: Independence Hall interior, where the Declaration of Independence was debated and adopted)

Even a deist like Thomas Jefferson affirmed there are some truths that are self-evident (i.e. obvious)—truths revealed by our Creator. Rights given that cannot be taken away (that’s what “unalienable” means.) And although creation offers truths we cannot (logically) deny, many people choose to reject them anyway. And that’s fine. Freedom allows us to choose what we accept or reject.

But there’s something freedom never allows us—and never will.

What Freedom Means

If you think about it, it’s ironic that Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, based the rightness of declaration on God’s self-evident truths. And yet, Jefferson read the New Testament gospels with a razor blade in hand, cutting and keeping only those parts of the life of Christ that seemed authentic to Jefferson. You can see the “Jefferson Bible” today in the Smithsonian Institute.

Jefferson Bible

(Photo: Jefferson Bible with the word “as” cut out. Smithsonian National Museum of American History, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Our Creator has revealed—both in creation and in His Word—truths that our freedom of choice allows us to accept or reject. The Bible affirms this:

Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God. (Romans 1:20–21)

Freedom certainly allows us to choose to deny what God has revealed. But there’s something freedom never allows us.

What Freedom Never Means

Jefferson is a great example of our modern “enlightened” thinking—one that readily accepts the self-evident truths that suit us—such as the right to “the pursuit of happiness,” but rejects the parts that one can think around.

But self-evident truths come in the broader context of all God has revealed—namely, God’s Word. Even the first humans faced this dilemma:

  • In creation, Adam and Eve had a tree God commanded them to refrain eating from (Gen. 2:16-17). They had freedom of choice.
  • They also had the original “enlightenment”—the logical temptation to place one’s own reasoning above God’s Word (Gen. 3:1-5; Rev. 12:9).
  • They chose to think around God’s Word, and that decision came at a cost.

In other words, freedom of choice never included freedom from the consequences of our choices.

When What God Reveals Offends Us

God’s Word, by its own admission, purposes to shape us through grace into a holy people. It isn’t there so that we can conform it to be like us. When we come across passages that offend us or confuse us, it is better to assume the limitations of complete understanding lie with us instead of with God.

Ironically, when we seek to redefine what God has revealed, we actually sabotage the very pursuit of happiness our freedom was meant to give us.

Tell me what you think: What does freedom mean to you? To leave a comment, just click here.

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