Sometimes, the Revised Common Lectionary just doesn’t cut it. Today is one of those days. We’re not limited to the assigned Bible text as we discuss spiritual freedom. Tomorrow is our firework-laden holiday, so . . . Happy Fourth of July! We have much for which to be thankful, including our legendary freedom and independence (which started over two-hundred years ago). Less obvious but more critical is our spiritual freedom, which Jesus shared almost two-thousand years ago.
A first task involves sorting freedom from slavery. Old Testament (OT) Judaism was a debilitating burden that inevitably grew worse. The rules and regulations rampant in ancient Judaism were fundamentally flawed and did not represent God’s best plan. Amid the disaster, God revealed Truth and Love. We are reminded of Jesus’ role as the liberating Christ, the one freeing us from both the curse and penalty of the OT law. Jesus’ sacrifice provides cleansing and forgiveness. In this way, we can remain confident in our spiritual freedom. No amount of mere religion replaces the spiritual freedom we now enjoy.
Controversy clouds the issue of legalistic religion versus spiritual freedom. Religious legalists argue that God imposes enduring regulation. “Consider how people crave evil,” legalists proclaim, adding that “God creates an eternal structure and our only good choice is total obedience.” Really? There are numerous ways to phrase the arguments, but attempts to imprison people only hinders spiritual growth. Rules beget more rules until no one can keep up and at best it’s a losing game. The only thing legalistic religion produces is misery and catastrophe. Worried about the end of history? Allow bad religion to continue and we’ll have an express ticket to the apocalypse.
Spiritual freedom is the only good path forward. Here, the sense is that to fully accept Jesus we need to allow ourselves to be set free. Once we are redeemed and awakened we live by a love principle, not by rule-dominated religion. “Bureaucrats and institutions want to rob us of what Jesus provided,” freedom activists argue, “so we can’t allow a divine slave owner to become our god.” Spiritual freedom proponents cite the tendency for humans to serve earthly authority, often at the expense of following God. Even in church, people have often been raised addicted to servile obedience. Fear, ignorance and anger motivate misguided masses to seek black/white answers to life’s splendid challenges. Earthly administrators place burdens upon people that crush the spirit and interfere with people’s connections to God. What is supposed to be true liberation is reduced to simply submitting to systems of a life-sucking abyss.
Make no mistake: rules are necessary. Try creating a civilized society without them. Try raising children without them. Try keeping peace and order without them. It’s impossible. That said, we must empower people beyond dependence upon religious rules. There’s a level of spiritual maturity reached only when we progress to principles, something for which no amount of rules can substitute. There’s a long, nasty history of religious officials and institutions stealing power from individuals and exploiting the people they’re supposed to serve. There’s the ever-present temptation to sub-contract spiritual health to priestly traditions that ultimately exchange freedom for thinly-disguised servitude. It’s not just Judaism and Christianity that fall prey to this. In every major religion there’s the tension between law and liberty, between spirituality and slavery.
What’s holding you back? Secular scientists and spiritually enlightened people agree that tainted thinking is the greatest enemy. Faulty reasoning will poison your soul. Habitual prejudices and biases do more harm than anything outside ourselves we can blame. Idols of the heart and mind deny spiritual freedom and prevent joy and fulfillment. Fear-based religion never liberates, it only desecrates. Declare and celebrate your spiritual independence alongside your political freedoms. Although weapons and the rule of law may protect your civic liberties, we must each accept personal responsibility for seeking and managing our spiritual health. –Reverend Larry Hoxey