Independence Day Reflection on Freedom

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I love my country. I’m proud to be an American. I cherish the freedoms we have in our nation. I celebrate our independence on July 4 every year.

But I am also aware that there are reasons to be critical of the ways in which we as a nation and we as individuals have caused harm to other people groups and nations, visitors to our country and even to citizens of our great nation.

The freedom from tyranny, hard-won by our founders, brought (still brings) new challenges.

Freedom from something oppressive brings with it freedom to do something else. Yet, the temptation is great to use our own freedom to seize power and take on the role of the oppressor over and against others.

A parable may help to make my point. Jesus tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:23-35. In this parable a king wants to settle accounts with his slaves. One is brought to him who owes an astronomical debt that he could never possibly repay.

He begs forgiveness:

The slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’  (v 26)

The king has mercy:

And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. (v 27)

He isn’t just given time to repay it, the entire astronomical amount is completely forgiven. The slate is totally wiped clean. He is free! Really and truly and beautifully free from this crushing debt.

But how does he use his freedom?

He uses it to threaten one indebted to him:

But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ (v 28)

He could have used his freedom to bless others as he had been blessed. He could’ve completely forgiven the other guy’s debt, or at least given him time to repay it. But he didn’t. He used his freedom to threaten and oppress one less powerful than himself.

What does this have to do with our nation?

Well, in our wide-open landscape of opportunity, there have been times when we have used our freedom to infringe on the freedoms and rights of others.

Colonization.

Manifest destiny.

From sea to shining sea.

This all took massive levels of effort, sometimes even oppressive force.

Even today, issues of how much government is enough–but not too much, how–and whether–we welcome newcomers, and how we settle differences internally and internationally, all of these issues are opportunities to use our freedom in meaningful, constructive ways.

I am not bashing our nation. I’m not moving out. I’m not leaving. But that doesn’t mean I will sit back and nod and pray down God’s blessings on America as if we are uniquely entitled to Almighty Favor.

I celebrate what is good about our nation. We are strong and powerful and fruitful and industrious and beautiful. And I pray that we always, always use our assets to be a source of peace and a catalyst for freedom for others both within and outside of our borders.