Freedom. I thought about that word as I was feeding the cows this morning. What is a “freedom rally”? In the Bible, the exodus from Egypt is perhaps the archetype of freedom. Exodus is the story of freedom from slavery, freedom to serve God in the desert. Freedom to forge a new national identity, guided by a covenant in the shape of a treaty with God, the Ten Commandments.
For the past few weeks, Christians in the “freedom convoy” have been protesting vaccine mandates in Ottawa and other cities. They are protesting because they want freedom. Have they, in their churches, read The Law on Sunday mornings? I wonder what they are asking for freedom from. From laws? From rules?
The Judeo/Christian scriptures can help us sort out the present crisis. Laws, say many of us in our hearts and minds, are things to control us, to keep us in line, to keep our baser instincts in check. Laws make us bristle when they go against our desires.
But I don’t see laws, including the Ten Commandments, as negative at all. They are, as one of my clergy friends once said, “road signs on the way to freedom.” I know Christianity better than Judaism, so I’ll speak from a Newer Testament perspective. Christians believe that they may participate as ministering members of a world because of the work of Jesus Christ, who in his life, teachings, example, death and resurrection dealt a fatal blow to our baser natures, a fatal blow to the evil one.
Law shows us how to live: by loving God, by loving our neighbours. But perhaps more importantly, law frees us – if we co-operate with Jesus’ plans for this world – law frees us to do good. Law is not a matter of rules but of ability. It is the ability to be faithful because the Faithful One has done God’s work for us. It gives us the ability to love rather than hate our neighbour. Law, when we accept it as a gift, frees us from the idolatry of power, wealth, greed and pride.
Laws to live by
When I taught high school long ago, I engaged the students with the Older Testament book of Deuteronomy. While very much of that book remained mysterious to us, other parts were clear as a map to a happy, fulfilled life on this earth. Sanitary laws, laws about treatment of foreigners, laws relating to what we call Nature: these laws pointed those ancient nomadic Hebrews to a way of living a life of shalom as they moved into a more or less settled life in Palestine/Canaan.
As for the Ten Commandments, does anyone really believe that hatred and murder make a better world than love and understanding? Does anyone prefer family lives marked by adulterous parents? Or divorce? Would you prefer to live in a world marked by generosity or covetousness and greed? Someone wrote a psalm (#119) that uses 176 verses to praise the blessing of law – the Torah! Maybe humanity B.C.E. already had a pretty good idea that considering God before Self, the neighbour’s flourishing as necessary for our own, and submission to the common good of this world are the keys to a life of peace, joy, fulfillment, health and celebration. This is what Jews call shalom, and what Arab-speakers call salaam. Put in that context, it’s almost no sacrifice to wear a mask, to honour the knowledge of medical practitioners, to give up much travel.
Hunger for righteousness
I hope that if I feel called to demonstrate, it will be for human life, for pregnant women and the children they carry, for the immigrants, for Indigenous peoples, the partly-abled and the full-abled, the old, the young, the lonely rich, the aliens, the hosts. Freedom is a gift to me and is intended to be used for others. It often comes through obedience and submission to law that is meant to protect my neighbour and to set him or her free – from conditions that deny my neighbour’s value or enslave my neighbour to large forces in this world that see human beings as means to an end, not ends in themselves who exist for the glory of God.
In every decision, will my actions help the world see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Even Christians with a different view of Biblical Law will no doubt affirm, regarding the fruit of the Spirit, that “against such things there is no law (Gal. 3:38).”
Will my neighbours who don’t know Jesus Christ see him pronouncing a blessing on my actions as those of meekness, peace-making, as coming from a heart of purity, a hunger not for my way of seeing a current issue, but a hunger for righteousness?
A Prayer for our Country
On February 11, the Canadian Council of Churches issued a prayerful statement calling Canadian Christians to focus on the values we share and demanding an end to all hate speech associated with the protests in Ottawa.
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