Why would anyone trade their freedom for slavery? Although we’d like to think we’d never do such a thing, fear can be a compelling reason to choose slavery over freedom. Fear isn’t rational and it can overwhelm our best instincts. Freedom involves a degree of uncertainty and insecurity, making it a bit unsettling to our spirits. Slavery, on the other hand, while abhorrent to us does involve its own sense of security, the security of not having to take responsibility for one’s self.
Fear is rampant in the land and we give inordinate amounts of time, money and energy to achieving security, even if it’s only for a moment in time. Considering the “threats” at hand, it’s easy to see why we’re tempted to exchange freedom for security. What are the threats? They range from terrorism to global warming, uncontrolled immigration to economic down turns, loss of jobs to family dissolution – just to name a few. Trading freedom of speech, religion, and gathering together in public; for safety, seems strangely appropriate when confronted with such threats.
Politicians and preachers alike have learned to capitalize on our fears. They spin yarns about a golden age that never was and make promises of safety that quickly lead to legalism and institutionalism. As we become consumed by fear, our focus turns inward and we become be slaves to self and turn cynical.
In his letter to the Galatian churches, Paul confronts a community that had enthusiastically embraced the gospel of freedom in Jesus Christ that he’d earlier shared with them. Now they seem willing to give up that freedom in exchange for a culturally defined legalism that promised them safety, but which Paul believes will enslave them. The central symbol in this change of heart is circumcision, which is, for us, a medical procedure, but for Paul it’s symbolic of a lack of trust in God and thus a sign of slavery.
Through Baptism the last vestiges of the old ways have been washed away, meaning that the categories we use to control rather than serve others no longer exist – that is, there’s no longer “Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female” (Galatians 3:28). Paul reminds them that the demagogues who use the fear of not toeing the line, no longer have power over us. They’re free and this freedom, as Jürgen Moltman suggests, lets the creative possibilities of the future have their day, “for God’s future is the limitless kingdom of creative possibilities” (Spirit of Life).
Freedom from fear-induced slavery isn’t a license to indulge our passions but is instead is the fount of spiritual empowerment for service. The sign of this freedom is the fruit of the Spirit, against which there’s no law: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When this fruit is present in our lives, we’ll be ready to freely embrace our future without fear, even when we face extreme threats, and begin to creatively serve one another in the power of the Spirit.
Originally published in Disciples World, a journal no longer available. But it seems to fit our present situation well.