As Americans we love our freedom, or at least our idea of it. Nowhere else is that more evident than here in the South. We have a long-standing distrust of “the man” coming onto our property, keeping an eye on us, telling us what we can or can’t do. For many people, the government is operating just shy of evil overlord status, ready to pounce on any opportunity to rob us of our individual liberties. So we remain vigilant, even angry, waiting in the front lawn with our 12-gauge for the census man to show up. “No one’s taking away my freedom.”
What most of us don’t understand is this paradox: freedom can only be enjoyed when it’s limited. Unlimited freedom, freedom for freedom’s sake, is simply anarchy. Say I want to go out and drive wherever I want to. I’m free to do that. The other guy is also free to cross into my lane if he wants, nothing is stopping him. The yellow lines on the road are placed there to remind him he can’t simply do whatever he wants, and that doing so will cost the lives of others, and then his own freedom. So his freedom is limited so that others can exercise theirs.
By the way, do you know who put those lines on the road? Yes, the government. They set up rules, curtail our freedoms, for the good of all. That may sound like nonsense to you, but you take advantage of those limits every day. You want the freedom to use your phone, but also want legislation to stop spam calls. You want the freedom to use your credit card online, but also want identity thieves prosecuted. We rail against the government for interfering in our affairs, but we are quick to use their authority when someone else threatens our freedom.
In reality, freedom is a risky business. Think of it as a spectrum. On one extreme you have Tyranny – total governmental control of every aspect of life. You may have little if any freedom, but if you’re playing by their rules, you’re totally safe. On the other extreme you have Anarchy – total freedom from any rule or regulation. It’s everyone for themselves, which sounds liberating, until the next guy decides to take what’s yours with no thought of penalty. So if we’re honest, we all want liberty and security, but we can only achieve that balance if we’re willing to compromise, willing to listen to and work with those who provide security, willing to give up some of our freedom for the sake of others.
Is it a perfect system? By no means. Does government ever overstep it’s bounds? Yes… but so do we. We are quick to flaunt our freedom even when our leaders tell us it could have a negative impact on us and others (COVID-19 for example). The problem is, freedom itself has become an idol. It’s a concept we worship and fight for. Our ability to do what we want, when we want is our highest aim. In doing so, what we’re really worshiping is ourselves, our ability to live and act as we see fit, without any interference. If I see myself as the best judge for my life, then I’ve just recreated God in my own image.
If you’re a follower of Christ, there’s an even deeper message here, one we’ll explore later. But for all of us as Americans, realize that, as the old saying goes, “freedom isn’t free”. Not only did it cost us dearly to obtain it, but it costs us daily to maintain it. If we’re not willing to listen to and work with each other, either tyranny or anarchy is waiting at the door. So we must be ready to give up some things, loose some money, be inconvenienced, just wear a mask if you have to, in order to participate in the bigger, ongoing project that is this American experiment of liberty.