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Defining Freedom, part 3: Freedom From, Freedom To

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 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. — Galatians 5:13

‘Freedom from’ is not identical with positive freedom, with ‘freedom to’. — Erich Fromm

I have met people who seemed to me to spend a lot of time and energy asserting their ‘freedom from’ other people’s expectations of their behavior, or from the need to do physical work, or from any claim that might stop them from doing what they wanted to at any given moment. None of these people struck me as terribly happy. Many of them spoke of worrying that they hadn’t really achieved their full potential, or feeling that they were always missing a more satisfying experience somewhere else.

I have also met people who seemed to me to struggle to keep themselves ‘free to’ do work that they felt called to do (even if it was unpopular or unpaid), to reach out in love to neighbors (even those who were ostracized by their peers and easy friends), to do whatever they were convinced that God called them to do. This involved a certain amount of discipline and difficulty, but I also saw a rich satisfaction in these lives dedicated to something larger than their own satisfaction.

We can’t judge from the outside with certainty. To some people the passionate volunteer may look like a shirker, the good neighbor to outcasts may look like a rebel for the sake of rebellion. But we can judge our own motivations. When I stop and examine myself, I know when I am blindly seeking freedom from restriction and responsibility. I notice my frantic feeling, my eagerness to blame somebody else. I know, too, when I am seeking to be free to work and to love rightly. This seeking also can be passionate, but there is a patience in it that does not give up at the first sign of difficulty, and an honesty that willingly confronts my own faults.

I think there are times when it is legitimate to seek ‘freedom from’ oppression of various kinds. But I also believe that if we focus exclusively on what we wish to be freed from we open ourselves to hatred and to despair. It is essential to remember the vision of the just society, the blessed community, the kingdom, of God, that we wish to be free to embody in the world.

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