Nobody can take away our freedom…
For over three years a devastating war rages in Syria, one that has gone far beyond the borders of the country. Islamic State has shown its cruel face to the world. The media confronts us with unceasing suffering of innocent people, not in the last place Christians. Brute fundamentalists, who abuse the name of God kill them, plunder their houses, destroy their churches, rape their wives and daughters. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris provoked abhorrence and triggered a lot articles, blogs, media discussions and demonstrations. We should still realize: during the last decades the Western society has never been so safe and free from violence. In the same week of the attacks in Paris Boko Haram killed nearly two thousand innocent people in the northeast of Nigeria. The news services paid little attention to that and it didn’t awake a multitude of people to advocate for their freedom and security. Syria and Nigeria are still far away for most of us, but –alarm!- the danger seems to come much nearer.
Beyond optimism and pessimism
Now fear has grown in Western society because two basic values seem to be attacked: freedom and security. Many people cry for solutions: ‘actions from the side of politicians’; ‘more police force’; ‘more arms to fight against terrorists’, ‘no more asylum seekers here’ etc. They allow governments to take far-reaching security measures and they are ready to give up their privacy. Because they are afraid. Fear has become a dominant emotion in (Western) society. Most of us are floating somewhere between optimism and pessimism. We calculate the challenges and the opportunities. Success like economic growth, political stability, law and order makes us optimistic. We feed pessimism and fear when it all goes down: social unrest, threatening civil wars, refugees causing questions and problems, terrorist attacks… Of course this is very common and very human.
We need a more solid answer beyond optimism and pessimism, beyond the perspectives of success and failure. Jesus said: ‘You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Nation will rise against nation. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.’ And also: ‘You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death’. That does not seem to be a very optimistic scenario! But He added: ‘He who stands firm to the end will be saved.’ How is it possible? They will kill you and you will be saved…which means: you will be free, secure. There seems to be a security and a freedom beyond optimism and pessimism!
We think that we are free, but we aren’t
In the Gospel of John we find other words of Jesus about freedom: ‘If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’. The people to whom Jesus spoke, defended themselves and said: ‘How dare you say that? We don’t need to be set free, because we are free already!’ He indicated to them that simply their desire to kill him showed that they weren’t free.
Emotions can make us prisoners, like hate, or fear, or self-pity. Religious ideas can captivate us: the idea that we need to please God or to defend him. Social ‘privileges’ can enslave us: the right to have an income, or a career, or possessions, or pleasure, or the freedom to think and to say what you like. As these rights become ultimate goods to us, they act like gods. They are bosses. They rule over us and we are their prisoners. Terrorists are prisoners, captured by a spirit of lies that crept into their life, a life in which they didn’t experience love or could give love. Fundamentalism, hate and the power to kill gives them meaning and identity. But they aren’t able to think and to speak what is noble, right, pure, lovely, in short: what is life-giving. At the same time, if cartoonist or authors use the privilege of freedom only to humiliate and offense other groups of people, they aren’t free at all. They want to kill with their pen and pencil.
The Son will make you free.
God, as Jesus has shown us, decided not to dominate, but to serve; not to become more, but to become less. God made himself vulnerable and weak in his Son. He didn’t come to take revenge, to judge or to take lives, but to give his life. He intended and caused the freedom of others! For that freedom Jesus, the Son, gave himself to be bounded and to be killed in the cruelest way. Through the narrow gate of surrender to victory! That’s why God has given him a name above all names. Be sure that this King shows burning anger toward all evil, injustice, oppression, and only he has the right to exercise his wrath. His love is as strong as death and we will not enter freedom except through the narrow gate of dying to ourselves. The gate of forgiveness and giving up everything that we want to keep and that makes us a prisoner. Only he is able to set us free and to bring us from the house of fear into the house of love.
Corrie ten Boom, the famous Dutch evangelist, known for her book ‘The Hiding Place’ was arrested and brought to an Amsterdam theatre together with her sister after a raid in World War 2. She asked the German officer sitting behind the table to register all the names: ‘ Why are you doing this?’ He answered: ‘ Who are you, lady? With one word I can get you killed right at the spot.’ She said: ‘You have the power to take my life, but you cannot take my freedom to give my life.’
A freedom that cannot be taken away
We will experience that other people move away our freedom. They will violate us by depraving our honour, stealing our possessions and our freedom to move… They can do it by neglecting us, or silencing our voice, by false rumours, hate mail, or public offense. They can bullying us on the internet, or by making us a prisoner literally. In many ways our freedom can be taken away from us. And this is reality today in many countries, in many political systems and in many families. In Paris jihadists took the freedom to live from 17 innocent people, and you should try to answer the question why Jewish people were among them again… Sure: injustice, hatred and violence should be prosecuted and punished by the authorities by all legitimate means. Can they guarantee our freedom and security? Certainly not. There are no safe places on earth, except when we help our children, students and fellow citizens to understand that the only real freedom in this universe is not the freedom to take but the freedom to give. Hate takes life. It kills hope, future, joy and honour. Love gives life. It brings forgiveness, peace, freedom and also righteous anger. And love cannot be stopped, even not by killing.
Who is able to break through the spiral of revenge and hatred, and to love till the end? Jesus showed the way. He went that way. If you want freedom, follow him! Like my Egyptian friend Sami who has to cope with the issues of freedom and security every day, said: ‘You are no fool if you give up what you cannot keep, in order to gain what you cannot lose.’