Cry for Freedom
The hunger for freedom is deeply embedded in the human soul. I recently heard it again in the words of a teenager on a television program about teen suicide. She explained that many young people harbour a deep fear about the future and a sense of hopelessness about the state of the world, often accentuated by family troubles, drug abuse, and unemployment. Her deeply moving and sad story amounted to a desperate cry for freedom from the fear and hopelessness that is now driving all too many teenagers to take their own lives.
There is a universal longing for freedom. Over the course of history, rivers of blood have been shed in its defence. But despite the longing for freedom, many people are hard pressed to say exactly what it means. Their understanding of it is equated with clever ads, like Lotto 649's "imagine the freedom." Financial institutions use similar ads-think of London Life's "Freedom 55"- to convince people that their products and future financial security hold the keys to freedom.
Increasingly, underlying the desire for freedom is the desire to do as we please. But this view of freedom has some pretty serious consequences, which are becoming more and more obvious in all their ugliness. If we are really free to do as we please, there can be no limits. We are free to satisfy all our individual appetites. And some appetites are insatiable.
The idea that freedom is doing whatever we want is based on the belief that what I want is all there is to life. Life has no meaning beyond the here and now. It is then quite logical to assume that life is merely a game of chance. But such a world is a scary place. There are no signposts that can give us direction and purpose for living.
In a world stripped of meaning, and thus of a standard to distinguish right from wrong, no one can tell us what to do. We are free to pursue our own self-interest. But this leaves us defenceless against evil and lawlessness-who or what will stop us from lying, cheating, stealing, or even killing? Who can say that these are really wrong? When we no longer have the inner motivation to restrain our behaviour, restraints will have to be imposed from the outside-more laws, harsher punishment, more police. But no amount of enforcement is a match for the evil that will be unleashed when we imagine that we can live according to a moral code of our own design.
Striving for the freedom to indulge in every impulse that twitches through us in reality makes us a slave to our desires. Escape from such slavery is only possible when we realize that true freedom is a gift-one that arrives with a mortgage of responsibility to serve God and our neighbours.
I once heard a college professor illustrate this point with the following story. A matronly lady visiting a friend's house noticed a goldfish in a bowl. She exclaimed, "Oh. how cruel to keep this poor fish confined to such a little bowl." Whereupon she took the fish out of the bowl and set it free on the carpet. The fish promptly expired. Similarly, humans are ordained to live within the confines of creation. We are "free" to defy the law of gravity, but we will fall down. We are "free" to defy the moral law of God, but we will die like fish out of water.
The tragedy of our times is that we are deliberately cutting ourselves off from the only source of true freedom. Instead of telling ourselves that we are "free" to do whatever we want, we need to be reminded that our lives have meaning and purpose beyond ourselves. In a society where so many, especially vulnerable teenagers, believe their lives to be pointless, this message desperately needs to be heard.