- Saturday, May 11, 2024

Freedom can be deceiving. When you drive through the countryside and see a horse standing unrestrained in a field, does it seem free? When you walk through a neighborhood and hear a dog running and barking on the other side of a fence, does it appear to be free? When you drive by a school during recess and see dozens of children playing on the fenced-in playground, are they free? When you see a toddler playing with blocks in his playpen, is he free?

All of these anecdotes could suggest the opposite of freedom. These examples imply confinement in one way or another. All suggest, at least at first blush, limitations rather than liberty, of being stuck inside rather than being free to roam.

An open prairie, for example, would seem to offer more freedom for the horse than a fenced-in pasture. An unfenced yard appears to give a dog more liberty than a yard with well-defined boundaries.

The same applies to the enclosed playground for children and the playpen for tots.

True freedom, however, is often paradoxical and different from how it appears.

Consider the lesson we learn from Moses and Israel’s Exodus from Egypt’s bondage. While Moses is synonymous with the law, the Exodus is the quintessential story of freedom. How do we reconcile these two apparently contradicting values of liberty and law?

Like the fence that keeps a horse in a pasture, the law is often thought of as the opposite of freedom. Law and liberty seem to be on opposing sides. But on closer inspection, you’ll notice that none of the Old or New Testament authors ever suggested that God’s laws were intended to restrict human freedom. That wasn’t the point at all.

The prophets, for example, never emphasized that the law restricted our liberty. Instead, they warned that disobeying God’s law results in brokenness, bondage, and less freedom rather than more. And in the New Testament, we read over and over again that we are “free in Christ.” The narrative arc of Scripture is crystal clear. Repeatedly, we are shown the paradox of discipline and freedom in unambiguous terms. This is summarized best by Jesus himself when he tells us that only those who give up their lives will gain them.

In other words, God repeatedly promises us that when we love him more than ourselves, believe his truths, follow his ways, obey his laws, and live within his fences, we enjoy more freedom rather than less.

This is the repeated paradox of freedom and fences, and frankly, it can’t be missed if we bother to stop our narcissistic navel-gazing and see the reality around us: God’s law is always liberating, but the consequence of not living within its boundaries always compromises our liberty as well as our neighbors’.

In Deuteronomy, blessings are promised to a nation for keeping the law, and curses are guaranteed for not obeying it. Within the law, there is liberty. Tear down the playground fence, and the children need to be saddled with more rules to keep them from straying into the road and getting injured or killed.

G.K. Chesterton, the prince of paradox, understood this. He told us that if you get rid of the big laws of God, you don’t get liberty, but rather thousands upon thousands of little laws that rush in to fill the vacuum. In other words, if we refuse to live by 10 simple laws given to us by God (and frankly, Jesus seems to have summarized them in just two), we get reams upon reams of little laws imposed on us by arrogant oligarchs in places like Washington.

Thousands of little laws made up by the powerful and the privileged, the “smarter than thous” who think they know better than we do about how we should live, down to the point where they are now telling us which pronouns to use and how we should use the bathroom. This is absurd. This is not liberty. This is not freedom. It is ideological fascism, pure and simple.

Just as ignoring Moses and his 10 simple laws leads to less freedom rather than more, even more so will ignoring the one who said “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

In our attempt to be free, we’ve broken down the moral and spiritual fences that defined and protected that freedom in the first place. We thought we’d find liberty by discarding the teachings of Moses and Jesus. But instead, we’ve let the wolves in, and they are having us for lunch.

• Everett Piper (dreverettpiper.com, @dreverettpiper), a columnist for The Washington Times, is a former university president and radio host.

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