Living in Freedom
When I had made up my mind to write a couple of articles about the time of the occupation and the liberation of 1945, I began to realize, more and more, how difficult that is, for I am writing, not only as reminiscence with the thoughts and the feelings from that time, but I must also write for the younger generation, if I can.
What do young people think about, at the word “Germany”? About a holiday in the beautiful parts of that country, about soccer tournaments where supporters on both sides engage in misbehavior, about economic connections? We experienced the fall of the Berlin wall and the reunion of the two German states, which did not produce only joy. Since that time, both in East and West, it is about earning money, and the mafia, according to common talk, sees its chances even into Russia.
Meanwhile, the most horrible things are happening in Bosnia and in Ruanda and the peace between Israel and many of its neighbouring states is far from reality.
Even as economic well-being rose to an actually shameful height, the awareness of dependence collapsed, and the faith in God the Almighty appeared less and less necessary. Churches, built after the war in new neighbourhoods could be broken down again or sold for another purpose.
West-Europe emptied out, inwardly, and the process appeared to be unstoppable. We will not forget that in other areas the church is growing, in Asia, in Africa, in South America. A church of the poor. But we had received so much here; so many treasures out of Scripture and out of history were given to us. And it appears that we are throwing it away by the handful.
And who can blame the poor and the seekers of asylum when they come here to seek relief from poverty and come here to ask for freedom to live? Will this mean that in the long run, the West European culture and economics are going to be equalized with the low standard of living of poor countries, in other words, will we all fall into poverty? With what kind of war will that be combined? What is there in the future that is worth fighting for? What must we, in the future, see as God’s mandate for our lives; about what will our young people be able to be enthusiastic; to what will they have to, or desire to, dedicate their lives?
Now I am going to take a step, that, at first sight, is too large: reminding ourselves, from the Bible, what freedom is. In a church magazine I may not do otherwise and I do not want to do otherwise, do I? Yet, we will see that the distance is less large than it appears.
Freedom. Then, naturally, we think in the first place, about the deliverance of the people of Israel from Egypt. The first Passover. An earthly deliverance? A spiritual deliverance? Both, and there you already have the connection.
They were free, but not nearly in the Promised Land yet. During the journey, very quickly, God made his covenant with them at Sinai. The people were freed out of slavery, to the service of God. The rules were given in the law, not to bind in a new slavery but to point out the way. Freedom in being bound, a freedom that Israel was not able to manage. When Joshua spoke his words of departure to the people, saying, choose today whom you will serve, he did not present to them the choice between God and idols, but he said: if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, then choose whom you will serve, the gods from the time before Abraham, or the gods of the Amorites whose land you will enter. It will be lead or scrap iron. There is no choice. The LORD chose you. There is nothing more to do than to say Amen. Anything else means death.
Freedom without being bound means idol worship and simultaneously social injustice. We know how the prophets displayed wrath against both sides of apostacy. It must truly grab our attention that the two sides of apostacy hang together, as we still always see happening today. Whoever does not love God, does not love his neighbour either. For a time, a form of humanism can exist that propagates love for the neighbour and brings it into practice, and even shames Christians, but in our time, we see humanism running empty. It is now only about what I myself have and can hold on to.
Freedom in the Old Testament meant a provisional freedom. The Passover waited for a better Passover, for Good Friday. All of the Old Testament waited for the coming of the Messiah, who came to bring true freedom, and when he came, those who were his did not accept him. In the exchange of words with his fellow Israelites, at a specific moment he had to say: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). They then answered: We? We are Abraham’s children and we have never served anyone. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” are words to keep thinking about. Then he offered himself up even unto death. But his resurrection meant the true freedom, for himself, but also for all who had learned to believe in him and who continue to learn to believe in him. For it means resurrection to a new life.
It was prayed for us, when we were baptized, that we might also be buried with him in his death and that, with him, we might rise to a new life. Guilt, wrath, punishment, corruption, death are all behind us! What a gospel! The apostles are full of it. Christ freed us, so that we might be truly free, Paul writes to the Galatians. Therefore remain steadfast and do not let yourself be put, once again, under the yoke of slavery. You have been called to be free, only, use that freedom, not as an occasion for fleshly pursuits, but serve one another in love.
Freedom. That is Christian freedom. It is a gift from heaven in the death and resurrection of Christ. It is also a gift through the Spirit. There are two laws, Paul writes in Romans 8, a law from the Spirit of life which made you free from the other law, that of sin and death. The disposition of the Spirit is life and peace.
This then also means that you learn that peace and that freedom through the Spirit. This does not mean a restriction of the joyful gospel, but points us on the way through which the Lord gives it to us and teaches us. The Spirit has been promised to us. It does mean that there is a mystery in the life of the Christian. You do not receive such a life automatically; you do not even desire it out of yourself. You learn it and you receive it. The Holy Spirit directs all your attention to Christ, teaching you to hand over to him all your rebelliousness and slavery. From being a rebel, you become a subject; from being a slave you become free. It happens with failings and rising again, but it does happen. Freedom.
All of this has consequences for life in today’s world. For in the first place, it means that we have the sure knowledge that the world and its future does not lie in man’s hands, good, or very often, wicked, but in the hands of the glorified Saviour, who lives and reigns although he does not tell us how and along which ways. In the second place, it means that we live in a world where the battle is being fought daily. The wicked enemy is defeated, but at the same time, not yet. Satan still has a small respite and fiercely seeks to harm us, as we used to sing in the old league song of the young people’s societies. It is true. The enemy has a frightening amount of knowledge and experience in the manner in which he desires to fight the King and strikes at him through the means of his people by cunning, craftiness and blinding them to the truth. His devious ways are not unknown to us, Paul once wrote. Not to us either? How often have you fallen into temptation or been weak, or worse?
In the third place, it means that the Lord desires faithful subjects and also gets them in his service. That service can mean that the Lord calls you to a specific work directly related to his kingdom, for example becoming a minister or a doctor in Africa or nursing in difficult circumstances. But how pitiful, if it would be limited to that. Do you have abilities with your head or with your hands? The Lord asks your life; mostly he does not ask your death. Take my life, O Lord, and let it be consecrated to your honour; even if there is little you can do, even if you go unnoticed, even if others laugh at you, even if you are misunderstood, even if you never receive a thank-you.
Can you serve him with scientific insight in the issues of today? With your technical knowledge and ability? With your simple interference when you see that someone is bullied or suffers wrong? With a listening ear, when someone is caught in invisible bonds and is plagued by doubts? With a helping hand when someone is in danger of going under?
To be free, free with regard to your possibilities, your money, your wellbeing, your achievements; that also means being able to give back, for the freedom in West Europe was never promised. Your wellbeing is not promised. Also your work and your health are not promised to you. It is amazing to be able to stand inwardly free with regard to so much that we accept as normal, so much that we take for granted, things that everyone says we have a right to. Freedom is dependence on him who not only gives and asks back, but to whom we entrust ourselves in time and in eternity. Only when you may be inwardly free, then you are also prepared to share and to really see the need of others, those close to you in your neighbourhood or in the wide world, in which we are slowly all becoming partakers. The Lord does not ask the same from every one of us, but that is his to determine. He is not only the owner of life, but also the Saviour of life. It is almost unbelievable, but true: e has a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Do you really believe that?
A Christian is someone for whom all earthly freedom is still temporary. This freedom is for him or her a picture of the indescribable freedom to which we may look forward. But exactly for that reason, a Christian can never resign himself to accept that we live in a world where oppression, hate and terror are still the order of the day. Where you can jump in to effect a change, do that. Realize for yourself that you cannot affect most things. Do not resign yourself to that too hastily. But what you really cannot do, lay that in God’s hand. Pray for wisdom and trust and the ability to give it over to him. Pray also, that looking forward to God’s great future will not be taken away from you. Entrust him with your life and that of your children. The whole world and the whole future lie in his hands.