"How can you say, ‘You will become free’?”

“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
(John 8:31-32)

In today's readings, Jesus promises us freedom if we remain in his word. But his Jewish followers are confused. They aren't slaves...what kind of freedom could he be talking about?

A modern reader might have a more difficult question:

If 'remaining in his word' means being a practicing Christian--someone who believes that they are both bound to a moral code and to follow a plan that God has laid our for thier life--how can this possibly bring freedom? 

It seems like a logical contradiction. You can't be both bound and free...can you?

What Freedom Isn't

To truly understand Jesus' offer of freedom and whether it makes sense, we have to take a deeper look at what freedom really is.

If you were to walk up to someone on the street and ask the question "What is freedom?", you would likely get an answer like: "Freedom is being able to do what you want to do." This is certainly how most of us use the word in our daily conversation.

On the suface it seems correct enough, but is it really? A simple example will demonstrate that it isn't:

Consider a heroin addict who has somehow suceeded in obtaining a lifetime supply of heroin. They want to get high, and now they can...freedom, right? It would be according to the definition above, and it might even seem that way to the addict.

But we can see that the addict clearly is not free. They are bound in a dangerous addiction that is consuming their life.

True Freedom

Why are we not satisfied with calling the hypothetical addict's ability to indulge their habit freedom? It is because, from the outside, we can clearly see that their life could be so much nore fulfilling without the drugs...That they could be more authentically themselves without the addiction.

This is the root of true freedom: the ability to live as your authentic self.

As we'll see, this provides the answer to how Christianity with its commandments and divine providence can be compatible with freedom.

Law and Freedom

The idea that the Christian moral life impedes our freedom is based on both the misunderstanding of freedom we already discussed and a mistaken idea of the Christian moral life itself.

God's laws are not arbitrary like human laws. Rather they are more like natural laws, reflecting a spiritual cause and effect. Violating God's laws doesn't lead to 'punishment' in the human legal sense of the term...it leads to consequences.

Sin not only separates us feom God, but it changes us, makes us less our true selves. Just as a friend or relative might look at the addict in the throes of thier addiction and say "I barely recognize them anymore", sin draws us further and further from our authentic self.

As Jesus says in the Gospel reading:

"Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin."
(John 8:34)

Freedom from sin means freedom to be ourselves and not slaves to our attachments and vices.

A Plan for Freedom

Once we realize that freedom is about being our true selves, it also removes the apparent problem of God's will and providence. Rather than limiting our freedom, God's will is what enables it.

Why? Because God's will for us is nothing more or less than that we learn to become our true selves--that we are transformed into what we were created to be and find our true purpose.

God is not limiting our freedom, he is showing it to us and inviting us to claim it.

To the degree that we are truly free, we are able to choose what we most authentically desire--that which is most in line with who we are created to be. Both predestined and free.

Maybe an example will make it more clear:

I vividly remember walking down the center aisle of the Cathedral in the day of my ordination. As I walked toward the sanctuary, it occured to me that I was free to leave if I wanted. No one would stop me if I turned and headed out the door, yet I had no desire to do so. I was convinced that I was exactly where I wanted and needed to be.

I knew that God had created me for that very moment and I desired it more than anything. I had experienced true freedom.

Jesus reminds us today that this freedom is not just something for the rare milestones in our lives, but something we can have all the time--even in the midst of trial and tribulation. The young men in the fiery furnace had it in the first reading.

We can have it, too. We only need to embrace God's truth to find it.

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