So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
— John 8:31-32
The truth will set you free, or will it?
I think that there is an inherent inconsistency between the notion of “freedom” and the doctrine of the Narrow Gate (Matthew 7:13, NIV). When we speak of freedom, we will normally think of the absence of constraints in choice or actions; some sort of a release from something that restricts. But when we juxtapose “freedom” with “narrow gate”, we will find ourselves in a predicament. What exactly is “freedom” in the light of the constraints of the “narrow gate”?
Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?
— Romans 6:16, NIV.
Okay, let me get this straight. In light of the common understanding of the term, “freedom”, freedom refers to the absence of constraints. When one has “freedom” per se, one will be able to do all that he or she wants to with absolutely no limitations whatsoever. Sure, there might be some constraints of physical space-time. However, such constraints are, for the most part, part and parcel of life and we normally do not take them into account. For example, you can’t be at many places at once even though you wanted to. You aren’t free. You’re constrained by space.
Now, when we focus our understanding of “freedom” to that that is commonly understood by the human race – you’re a free-person if you’re not bound by a physical space or a physical force that constraints. Say, for example, you’re free if you’re not in prison. Or in another context, you’re free to go where you want to go or do what you want to do if the law dictates that what you want to do is legal. You’re free.
This is the physical constraints of freedom. However, freedom is constrained by the limitations of the physical world that bounds our actions and our choices. So are we truly “free”?
From another extreme, we have the “narrow gate”. As restrictive as the “narrow gate” is, there is some innate logic behind the facade of the restriction.
But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
— Romans 7:6, NIV.
Many reason that the restrictions of the “narrow gate” bind us to a certain set of rules that enable us to maximise the greatest good for the community; diminishing possible harm to others and maximising the productivity of common living. Others reason that the restrictions are mere requirements by God for a Holy life. Sure, we are living in a world where we co-exist with other living beings and we need to adhere by certain laws in order to uphold the freedom of others as well. After all, we can’t go about killing others while ensuring the freedom to live, right?
Surely, there is no “freedom” in both the doctrine of the narrow way and in the physical world we live in. Unless, of course, if you ‘die’ to the law the law that binds.
In my quest to find the mystical freedom, I’ve been hit with many dead-ends like this. I have sought to understand how choices and actions confine our thought and desires. How some choices that we make may rise to dominate our thoughts and desires, restricting our ability to break free from them. I have also sought to understand how the understanding of what is supposedly “morally good” (or Biblical laws) is always at odds with common beliefs, causing us to struggle between choices. When our heart desires something that our minds tell us isn’t good, we’re hit with a catch. Are we really free from restrictions?
Now, if we go about doing what our heart desires, will we be tied down by the actions that we make? Or if we go about following the moral law in our minds, will we be overcome by the desires of the flesh to do what we think we ought not to do?
Surely, there is no freedom indeed. Unless, of course, you ‘die‘ to the binding law.
Now, I think we will need to take a step back and peel back the irrational expectation of freeing ourselves from all possible restrictions. We need to take into consideration the constraints of the physical space-time as well as the wellbeing of the others around us.
For in my inner being I delight in God’s law.
— Romans 7:22, NIV.
Sure, if the confines of the law maximise the common good for the society and care for the wellbeing of everyone around us, then it should be seen as good. But that will also mean we must limit ourselves to a certain set of rules so that we may not affect the freedom of others. But there is a school of thought that breaks away from the mundane adherence of the law of the narrow way. This is the doctrine of delight — a doctrine of joy. We are broken free from responsibility when we find delight in the things we are supposed to adhere to. We are broken free from the mundaneness of obligation when we know the good that the law will bring.
When our desires coincidentally coincide with the laws of the narrow way, we will naturally be inclined to delight in it. Or will it?
For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.
— Romans 7:22-23, NIV.
I think it’s normally not the case, really. Flesh and blood do not simply win battles against earthly temptations. It simply won’t happen. So, when we consider the attributes of the freedom that Truth promised to give, we need to consider our humanly limitations; both in the physical and the spiritual realm.
It is, therefore, my conclusion that freedom is a culmination of abilities to do what we ought to do and to abstain from that that is detrimental to our collective wellbeing. It is this ability that allows us to break away from the bonds of moral obligation and into the realm of love; delighting to do all things with the wellbeing of others and oneself in mind, achieving the best outcome for the human race.
But no. This isn’t possible. Not with our own strength.
However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him — these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
— 1 Corinthians 2:9-10a, NIV.