Back in the 1980s, the famous author Tom Wolfe gave a memorable speech at Harvard. He said that “throughout history, through all ages, all human beings have always sought two kinds of freedom, but today we are after a third kind as well.” He said;
“The two kinds of freedom we’ve always searched after are freedom from tyranny and freedom from want. Under freedom from tyranny are included things like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and freedom of political determination. Under freedom from want are included things like freedom of economic opportunity and so on.”
Wolfe went on to say “Today we are seeking, and even expecting, a third kind of freedom that is unprecedented.” He said this is freedom from religion. People today are seeking freedom from the internal monitor your parents place on you, as well as the monitors from the church. We want to have the freedom to decide what moral and spiritual reality is to us. Wolfe concluded that “this has never been sought before. It is the final freedom.”
These remarks were made over 30 years ago and Wolfe, I believe, is right in that modern people want to be free from having God intrude into their lives. The question we need to consider is, “Where has this gotten us, this liberation from God and the boundaries He has set upon our lives?” Are we really free by living however we choose to live with no restrictions?
I have concluded that many Americans believe freedom means the absence of restraints in our lives. As long as we can follow our hearts and as long as we do not hurt anyone, this is the key to a full and happy life – to fulfill all of our yearnings and desires.
If you look around the world today, this modern view of freedom is clearly not working. It does not lead to happiness, and it never will, because this way of thinking inevitably breaks down. It leads to chaos and pain. In fact, I would say this model of freedom explains why people’s lives are not working in a progressive culture that seems to have it all.
One of the main reasons today’s view of freedom breaks down is because of our failure to understand the complexity of the human heart and its design.
We believe we are only free if we can do whatever our heart wants. But, have you ever noticed the competing desires in your life and how they can be so contradictory? For example, if you want to be healthy, fit and live a long life, but you also smoke cigarettes and drink heavily, at some point you realize your model breaks down. The competing interests require that you choose a side, and you finally understand freedom is not the ability to do whatever you want, as your desires can be endless, easily colliding with each another.
In the book of James (1:25), we find insightful words on freedom. He speaks of the person “who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom.” Yet, how could that be true, that God’s perfect law leads to our freedom? It would seem to be the opposite—that God’s law would take our freedom away from us. There are many who see God as one who desires to steal our happiness.
I would ask you to consider what James has written from a different perspective. New York City pastor Tim Keller says that sometimes you have to deliberately give up your freedom to engage in activities and thought processes that will enable you to release yourself to a richer kind of freedom. And as we look at the competing desires of our hearts, it is critical for us to discover which of our desires are liberating and which are destructive. Ultimately, we need to determine which of our desires are aligned with who we really are, and therefore, enhance our lives. In our quest for happiness, it is crucial we recognize that freedom is not a lack of restrictions; rather, it is finding the right restrictions. Freedom occurs when you discover the restrictions that best fit your being and lead to harmony, peace and joy in your life.