Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, in Our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in His own Image, in the Image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1.26-27
July 4 is actually a celebration of independence, specifically the birth of a new nation independent of British control. Our celebrations tend to emphasize freedom and liberty with only a vague memory of the war for independence. To be sure, freedom and liberty both are principles that drove us to war, but personal freedom and liberty were the desired benefit and outcome of independence from foreign rule, not the actual cause for war itself. We would be wise to remember the importance of national independence distinct from personal freedom and liberty. One speaks to the creation of our nation, the other to the creation of human beings.
Recently, I have been reading history, an area in which I am lacking. We would do well to know more about human history. Frankly, I believe we would be better people if we looked more carefully at human beings across history and less obsessively at ourselves. Minimally, we would be far more grateful for the national independence and personal freedom we have come to take for granted. The two books I am currently reading are Medieval Civilisation and Inferno: The World at War 1939-1945. The most astounding and appalling fact that rises from history is the human capacity for violence against other human beings. We – at least, I – have become far too comfortable with the assumption of peace, even as wars and violence pervade other lands. Historically, human beings have been a dispensable commodity subject to the needs of rulers. The same is no less true in parts of our world today.
Yet, the burning desire for freedom and self-rule repeatedly pushes back against the forces of dominance and oppression. The less humanly people are treated, the greater is the compulsion to break the power of rulers. The desire to be free is a human trait, not a uniquely American trait. Throughout history, human beings rise up against oppressive leadership in whatever form that thwarts basic humanity. The reason we need to remember this now is because we have reached a stage of near-blind complacency in our contentment with the pursuit of personal freedom while ignoring the fragile nature of freedom itself, as well as the unlimited ambition for power and control that destroys human liberty. Such is how it has always been, and such is how it remains today, regardless of whether we choose to see it. The refusal to acknowledge the truth does not alter the truth at all; it merely weakens our humanity.
The universal desire for freedom and peace does not arise from a set of changeable ideals. Freedom and peace are instilled in us in our creation, for God is free to do and to act as He desires, and God Himself contains perfect peace. Only the destructive force of sin seeks to dominate whole peoples and command the direction of human history. This privilege belongs to God alone, and every time a ruler seeks to master the course of history, he or she usurps the place of God, repeating the sin of the Fall: the desire to be god apart from God. Against this sin, the innate hunger for freedom inevitably will come to expression, even choosing rebellion and war over peace.
The state of perfect independence does not actually exist, although the qualities of freedom and liberty are very real. Human beings will always be dependent for survival, be it dependence upon the favors of nature and creation, or dependence upon the provision of benevolent rule, or – as God intended – dependence upon Him. Yet, freedom is the burning light of the human soul, to make one’s choices and determine one’s own course in life. Authentic freedom is attained only to the extent that we return to God and in His bosom learn what is our true purpose and destiny. There can be no other avenue to freedom than that for which we were created. Whether expressed in the inhumane oppression of despotic rulers or in our own pursuit of self-determination, the human desire for complete independence along with the necessary power to produce such a state will end in wretched slavery. Freedom will remain elusive until we seek to fulfill our purpose and destiny, both of which were determined in our creation.
The ideals that fed the raging desire for freedom from British rule were curbed by a frank accounting of human depravation. The human propensity for sin demands limited access to power, and the very structure of our government reflects the highest aspirations of the human creature as well as protection from the worst abuses of human nature deluded by its own self-importance and impotent omnipotence. If we forget the latter, we are in great danger of losing the former, a state of affairs we are far too close to attaining already. There will be no perfect government until Christ rules at the end of the age. But the government established 236 years ago is as close a reflection of the reality of humanity’s greatest longings and deepest flaws as can be reasonably achieved in this world. The infinite potential of the human creature was given free expression, even as the infinite potential for evil was limited as best as possible. Only as we forget who we are created to be and who we truly are do we witness the decline of human freedom and the limits placed upon human sin. In our forgetting, the experiment in true freedom slowly comes to an end.
If we would be free, then we must remember who we are – our capacity for the distortion of God’s creation – and who we were created to be – majestic, noble, and free reflections of the majestic, noble, and free God. Anything else will lead to the enslavement of the human mind and soul, not the freedom for which every heart yearns. Freedom is available in Jesus Christ in every form of government, but the right to explore that freedom is not; even the right to share that freedom is restricted, sometimes horrifically so. If we are to guard this unique state of existence in this history of humanity, we must remember our creation even as we retain the humiliating knowledge of what we will become without the God Who formed us in His Image.
The witness Christians bring to this generation is true freedom: the right to pursue the human purpose and destiny and the basis for that right – our creation. When we are silent, the world will quickly forget, and sin is left to the greatest advantage. Human freedom comes from the free God Who made us in His Image. Tell everyone you know. Shout it from the rooftops. Apart from Him, we can only slide into captivity, either of our own making or by the design of leaders. Perhaps both. Definitely both.
In Christ –
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