You’ve probably heard the old saying that “Freedom isn’t free.”
It’s most often used to remind us of the sacrifices of the men and women who fought and died to establish our nation and then defend it through the course of its history. Their bravery and example are indeed something we should all carry with us as we remember that we will not remain the land of the free if we are unwilling to be the home of the brave. And yet, I think that perhaps as we reflect on the things that divide us as a nation and the frustration that we feel with each other over our differences, there is another aspect of this call to remember that “Freedom isn’t free.”
Freedom isn’t free if I want everyone to have it. People I love. People I hate. People I support. People I oppose. People I agree with. People I disagree with. People like me. People not like me.
The men and women who died so that we might be free, died for the principle that ALL people are created equal, that they are ALL endowed not by our good graces or by our government or by our laws, but by their creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
To be free, every human life needs an opportunity to thrive, to choose, and to strive for something better — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
So why is this a challenge? Why isn’t this easy? Why does it come at a cost?
Because, if we pursue freedom and justice for ALL it means that, by definition, there are going to be conflicts, disagreements, challenges, and obstacles in the lives of all people. We are accepting that God created ALL people. We are accepting that God values ALL people. We are accepting that God has a desire to bless ALL people. And that means we are willing to accept that our freedom is in the context of the freedom of every person around us and qualified by their life and their liberty and their pursuit of happiness along with our own.
The American dream is a challenge to the moral and spiritual fabric of everyone who wants to pursue it exactly because it requires us to rise higher than “us” and “them”, deeper than “majority” and “minority”, further than “democrat” and “republican”, and more expansively than what our country can do for us.
JFK famously called every American to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
This is the challenge of actual freedom.
When faced with hate, can you choose to love. When faced with opposition, can you choose to listen. When faced with loss, can you choose to learn. When faced with justice, can you choose to cooperate. When faced with lawlessness, can you choose to oppose it. When faced with corruption, can you choose to eliminate it. When faced with obscurity, can you choose to push for the facts, the whole facts, and nothing but the facts. When faced with gossip, can you choose to seek the truth. When faced with evil, can you choose to stand for good. When faced with fear, can you choose to believe. When faced with anger, can you choose to empower a positive change. When faced with frustration, can you choose to cast a practical vision of hope. When faced with disappointment, can you choose to find a healthy and productive response. When faced with sin, can you choose grace. When faced with flaws, can you choose salvation. When faced with weakness, can you choose God’s strength. The list goes on.
It’s easy to think that you are free if you are alone on a desert island with no one to interact with, disagree with, cooperate with, or oppose. But true freedom isn’t free.
True freedom challenges you, develops you, deepens you, enriches you, expands your limits, and causes you to rise to new levels of insight, wisdom, judgment, and compassion. True freedom requires you to stand firm on the principles of love, peace, joy, blessing, and justice for ALL — at the top of your lungs — while accepting that there will be those who oppose you at the top of theirs.
True freedom is coming into the awareness that God gave you freedom. God gave you a choice. God created you with the fundamental ability to choose freely, without compulsion, oppression, or suppression. God is certainly powerful enough that if He wanted to He could force you to do whatever He wants, but that is not what He chooses to do. So, if you are going to follow in God’s footsteps, participate in God’s will, and receive the life that God has in store for you, you are going to have to choose to participate in God’s mission to inspire, educate, enlighten, empower, convert, influence, and lead other people in freedom, for freedom, and through freedom.
It’s a challenge worth living for. To forgo the obvious tyranny of oppression, suppression, and silencing the opposition and instead choose the dynamic tension of disagreement, debate, and healthy discussion — listening to and understanding each other and having the strength to pursue better answers, richer results, higher purposes, and deeper promises. Being wiling to stand on the wall and defend the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for ALL even when it isn’t convenient, even when it isn’t easy, even when it isn’t free.
Choosing to accept the cost of freedom and justice for ALL is a choice worth making every time. Maybe it means that you don’t get your favorite policy passed. Maybe it means that you don’t get your favorite candidate in office. Maybe it means that you don’t get your favorite or even a perfect answer every time. But if rather than hating your enemies, you would pray for them. If rather than believing the ends justify the means to defend your partisan politics, you would believe in truth, justice, equality, and freedom for ALL and stand for that instead. If rather than opposing the process and seeking to overthrow the law because you don’t like the outcome you can accept the result under the law and continue to work to improve the system for the future. If rather than raising your voice for your party, your candidate, or your opinion, you raise it instead for the objective reality of God’s goodness, God’s grace, God’s love, God’s life, God’s way, God’s promises, God’s compassion, God’s mercy, God’s judgment, and God’s blessings.
If you choose to step out in faith and boldly declare God’s will, God’s vision, and God’s passionate desire to heal and to save ALL people, and do this with confidence and with peace and encourage, inspire, and empower others to join you, then God says,
“Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7