Think Again - Freedom and Dignity
Freedom and Dignity
Sometime ago, a prominent public figure phoned me. Both of us were overseas when he called. Perhaps being miles from home provided him some sense of protection and enabled him to be painfully candid. As I listened to him speak, nothing he told me was any different from what I have heard numerous times before. Perhaps the specifics were different, but the story was the same. He had climbed the pinnacle of success. He had experienced human emotions of the most exhilarating kind. Yet he was like a ship on the high seas without chart, compass, or destination. The conclusion of what he said was that he was at his wit’s end and felt lost. His impressive credentials and his level of despair were totally incongruent. He was living as an icon of success in a make-believe public persona. But privately, both he and his world were falling apart.
I dare say that he is really no different from any of us, if we will but admit it, for we are all totally lost within, despite our accomplishments. This is true for us both as individuals and as a community. Here is the question: Why do we see this so often and yet continue to deny its implications? It is as though we have to learn the same lessons over and over… and still never learn.
But here is the first point of tension with reason. There can be no rational argument against pain unless we assume human dignity, just as there is no reason for restraints on pleasure unless we assume human worth. Life is reduced to an inescapable monotony unless we assume a greater purpose to life; but there is no purpose to life unless we assume design, and death has no significance unless deep inside we seek what is everlasting. These tensions are true across the board in human experience—across cultures, languages, and backgrounds. This is what the Christian faith, in effect, reminds us. Absolute significance and purpose are directly linked to an ultimate design.
It is that subtle assumption of intrinsic worth and purpose that has kept the Western world intact and created the environment and the impetus for the success the West has known. Words like “providence,” “destiny,” “sacred,” and “creator” all carried a direction for life. Generations of men and women have drawn their strength from the Creator and believed in his ultimate purpose. Emergent generations built their successes and opportunities on the foundations others had laid before them. In the darkest moments of Western history, countless Christians have stood in humility before the Lord as representatives of their nations, calling upon God for hope and restoration. There was always a future hope linked to early aspirations and the longing of the soul.
But now in this brave new world, as Christianity is evicted in a culture, I have no doubt that there will not be a vacuum. Rather, a radical form of totalitarian religious belief will take over. The spiritual always tugs at the heart. When the true one is rejected, a spurious one replaces it.
I have sat with leaders in other parts of the world who have voiced their perplexity as to why we in the West don’t see this reality staring us in the face. The birthrate alone tells the future. We are being outnumbered in that category by nearly eight to one to inimical beliefs that seek the domination of the West. The handwriting is on the wall and a sterile secularism will not be able to withstand the religious assault of beliefs that take away our freedom. Only Christianity is strong enough to preserve our freedom and our dignity. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ gives us the enormous privilege of sacred freedom without imposing faith on anyone. Those who mock this faith will find themselves before long under the oppression of an ideological domination that uses religion to gain political and cultural dominance and will not tolerate the mocking of their beliefs without cruel responses.
History is replete with examples that politics never has had and never will have the answers to ensuring the perpetuity of a nation and the freedom and dignity of our souls. From the feudal warlords of ancient Mesopotamia to the divine status of kings in Babylon and Persia, from the democratic and republican ideas of Greece to the empire building of Rome, from the theocracies of Islam and the state church of Europe to flirtation with the idea of freedom without responsibility in postmodern America and the materialism of Communism—what has remained? A world in turmoil.
Political theories come and go. Nations and empires rise and fall. Civilizations wax and wane. For this very reason, Jesus resisted any efforts to make himself an earthly king. The allegiance he wants is that of the heart, for the ultimate universal battle is that of the will against God. In Him alone are we truly made free. The truth of God’s Word that abides forever and results in coherence is first lodged in the heart of a person and then in society. To bring that coherence within takes the grace and the work of God. But it is the heart and will that must sense it and then respond to it. Failing to grasp this is a guarantee of alienation within and then in every outward direction. That is why Jesus said, “I am come that you might have life and have it more abundantly” (see John 10:10). He is the author of life and the definer of what is true and good and beautiful. How our hearts hunger for those supremacies. That fulfillment can only come when we submit to his will and know that in Him we are to live and move and have our being. Our lives and our countries need this reminder in every generation.