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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bind Me Again! I Don't Want To Be Free

It is for freedom Christ has set you free, says Paul at the opening of Galatians chapter 5. I'm free for freedom's sake? Freedom itself is the goal?

A Janis Joplin song declared the frightening nature of freedom in this way: Freedom's just another word for 'nothin' left to lose.'

We find so many ways to refuse to accept it, substantial freedom. How do we respond?

Bind me! Bind me up again!

Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery, Paul says, even leading it off with the full expectation that we're going to want to: Stand firm, he encourages. He knows our weakness. We don't want to be free. It's scary. It's loose. We can't control total freedom and boy, how we like to be in control.

I just had a very brief exchange with a creative young friend who has imposed some restrictions upon herself for the purpose of a designated challenge. And while she wants to meet those rules to comply with the terms of the challenge, she took a moment to complain openly about the fact that now, she's restricted from beginning her project until the time the rules (which were made and entered into voluntarily) allow. This is, of course, no big deal at all. There is no sin in casting those rules aside and starting earlier by her desire to do so. There is no sin in waiting. There may be lost opportunity to achieve as much with the full fervor that would be there if the project were heart-directed all the way through, instead of bound and hindered while the clock ticks off some arbitrary number of seconds until that formerly arbitrarily determined date arrives. But so be it. It's no big deal in the cosmos.

However, it's such a symbolic parallel for how we humans often go about our lives, and that can be a big deal in the cosmos. Loki, in the movie The Avengers, stood over a crowd of terrified humans and scoffed at them as they knelt in fear before him: You were made to be ruled. There's a truth in that. We were and we know it. But by whom or by what?

Only one man stood to face him, saying, Not by men like you. And yet, by men like ourselves? Because if we fear we have too much freedom, we set about with diligence to find ways to bind ourselves again. Personal preferences become policy. Self-revelation becomes reason for restriction. Fear wins the day.

Living and breathing are symbols God gave us to let us experience something of what freedom is, but life, real life, comes from him and through him. Still, he knows how we are. When he raised Lazarus from the dead, he knew. Lazarus will be back. So will you and so will I. So Jesus himself didn't remove the man's graveclothes. He called him from the tomb, summoned spirit back to decaying body, restored the components for life, and watched Lazarus obey the command to Come forth!

But then Jesus turned to Lazarus' friends with a charge: Unbind him and let him go free.

We have to keep freeing each other. We have to keep reminding one another that we have been freed, that we are covered, that we can't be lost again. We have to keep unbinding each other. Or else our lives, though still not lost from the Father's hand, can be pictures of such tragedy. And as Jesus raised Lazarus and then commanded his unbinding, so also he wants us to live abundantly, not bound.

Speaking of tragedy, of being left bound reminds me of Nathaniel Hawthorne's protagonist (I suppose that's how we are to think of him) in the short story The Minister's Black Veil. The man elected to lead a flock could not for all his life believe that God's grace was really for him, in this very day, in this life. And so horrified was he of his own unspoken sin, that he covered his face with a black veil. As life went on about him, he refused to lift the veil. And it ate away at his life, a life he chose of loneliness, because he could not believe the power of Christ was great enough to walk with him, with others, in the day to day.
Thus, from beneath the black veil, there rolled a cloud into the sunshine, an ambiguity of sin or sorrow, which enveloped the poor minister, so that love or sympathy could never reach him.

Love or sympathy could never reach him, it says. He chose to maintain a superficial level of relationship with his flock, even his beloved, rather than let the light into his box of darkness. He clung instead to being bound to his sin, instead of letting his friends unbind him so that he could go free. Was it because he was simply worse than they? No. Even the minister, the one who delivered the word of God to others, for all his outward goodness, he simply could not grasp grace.

Dell Tackett says in The Truth Project that one cannot open up a box of darkness and have it overcome the light. No. Light enters into the darkness when it is opened. Light wins! It is dark inside a closet. But if you open the door, even just a crack, light floods in and overtakes the darkness. It is not the other way around.

But addictive people that we are, we can't believe it for long. We're so skeptical, accustomed to the "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" mantra. Grace can't be that big a deal. I still have the same old junk. I've got to cover it up and maintain it and polish it on Saturdays to keep up the best I can do. And that becomes our addiction. Return to being bound.

The musical artist Gotye sings, You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness. It's scientifically true, actually. Peptide receptors in the cells of our bodies grow and reproduce to respond to the type of hormones our bodies produce. Make a lot of happy ones, you'll have more happy receptors. So when your happy hormones start to run out, your body will literally crave more happiness, prompting you, perhaps, to phone a friend, or sing a song, or write an encouraging note, or go out dancing, or whatever floats your boat. But if you make a lot of sad or guilty or frightened hormones, those peptide receptors will flourish to receive and deal with the results of those emotions. And when they get hungry again, they want more sadness, more fear. You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness. But it is still a pattern that can be broken with effort and commitment, or at least made better. I'm discovering this. There is freedom to be found, even from profound grief, loneliness, and heartbreak. Even from the misery of knowing who I really am.

But first we must find victory (or at least some control) over that willful desire to maintain superficiality that prevents the unbinding. A willfull loneliness. For some of us, its an argumentative nature: I made my rules and by golly, I'm going to live by them! Self-righteous pride and saving face can become more important than even our own goals and contentment being met. For others, it can be a concocted piety. I'm supposed to deny myself, so I can be sure I keep on suffering here. I deserve nothing better. Others of us identify ourselves with our sin. Oh, woe is me. I'm too corrupt to be unbound. Or too hurt. We might identify ourselves with our pain (mea culpa).

And I think at the heart of all that, is our desire to not need grace. Because knowing grace really answers it all. Everything. The most important thing I've found in breaking that addiction of returning to my chains is always the same thing: believing grace. Believing the Spirit of adoption. (As a tangential aside, I will offer that sometimes I have been envious of children who were adopted--specifically chosen by their parents. What better picture is there of the kind of love God gives us? Did you ever have someone tell you they chose you, with no DNA in common, no bloodline, to be at the level of family? That means they wanted YOU for you. That's how God loves. He can't be scandalized away from us. He knows exactly who we are, and chooses us anyway. That's the Spirit of adoption.)

I've been reading today, because I'm home sick, and it's miserable. But even in sickness is this little mercy: time to read uninterrupted, whatever I want. And what I want is Three Free Sins by Steve Brown. Because my peptide receptors are demanding more and more of the certainty of knowing grace, and Steve finally got it. As an old man, he wrote a book about the futility of his life spent trying to make rules for what obedience ought to look like, and promoting his own piety, and expecting others to meet his set standards and rules. Chains upon chains upon chains. And then he realized that he was just following his addictions.

He says, and I love this because I know this of myself, Christians, by and large, are neurotic about purity, obedience, and holiness. [As if we even really knew what any of those things meant! and yet, we focus so much on our actions by our own definitions!] It is probably the main reason we're not very pure, obedient, and holy. And in order to maintain our 'witness' [quotes mine], we have learned to fake it.


Because we don't believe grace. We still can't buy this deal. It's too good to be true. Done for me? Forever? For certain? Can't be lost? And it's not all about what I do any more? Bind me again! I want it to be about what I do! scream the peptide receptors of self-righteousness.

What is this grace anyway? It's a word we use so much that we may forget how total and overarching it is. I've even heard a pastor friend say grace is such a big concept that we humans ought not speak of offering it to one another. It's so big, ONLY God can offer it.

I think that is an appropriate expression of reverence for the uniqueness of grace. I still think you and I can try, just like we toddle along after our Lord, to offer our best efforts of grace one to another, as we seek to speak the truths that unbind, as we seek to be like our Lord in offering forgiveness and compassion. But we may never be able to hit the big GRACE thing, because we are finite and faulty, and we just don't have the same raw materials to work with.

You see, Grace is absolute certainty. It is certainty that no matter how much you may have to hide behind your own dark veil, you really, truly are already OK. It's done. It's good. You have right standing that can never, ever, no matter what you think you're still clinging to, or possibly capable of, NEVER be lost. It's cemented there for eternity. God loves you. You are his. Period. It's more than cemented. Even concrete is going to crumble away one day but your right standing with God, if you've received his grace (and he's offering) will never alter, shift, diminish, lessen, or fade away. It's not an insurance policy. It is already paid out. It can't be taken back.

Light came into the darkness, and overcame it. That's the way it works. It's science. It's fact. It's grace. The yoke has been lifted in the very real sense. What? You still feel it there? Well so do I. But that doesn't mean a thing. God doesn't see it. To him, it's gone. Dealt with.

I think we get deceived into thinking that we aren't really free if we don't feel healed. So we put back on the chains and start working again at trying to heal ourselves until we FEEL better. We convince ourselves it's karma. I didn't really do everything right yet, so God's not blessing me with liberation. I must do this thing in a "more godly" way, and then he'll bless me.

Maybe, instead, God has us right where he wants us, because he wants us with him. Pastor Stuart Mizelle says that 1 John 1:7 (But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin) tells us how to keep moving forward without having to wear our own dark, separating veils, our own chains, our own self-righteousness. Walking with Christ does illuminate our dreadful condition. When the light falls on our sin, it exposes it. We want to cover ourselves. It is our fleshly, self-protective response. Hide me! Veil me! Let me earn my way out of this!

But Stuart says no. Just see it. And acknowledge: I see it there, Father. Thank you for Jesus. Accept the grace that says, EVEN with that in your makeup, God loves you still. And you are permanently, perfectly his. Your acknowledgement that the sin is there, and your acknowledgement that he alone is God who can deal with it, and not you, is enough. Even if you don't yet feel better, it's gone. You're safe. So go. Have fellowship one with another. Do what your hand finds to do, and do it with your might. Fear not. Unbind someone else. Stand firm, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery, beloved.

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