For those who follow me on Facebook you will have seen this link before. It is an article about the startling response by most Norwegians to what has been termed, by the media, “their 9/11.” We could learn a great deal from the Norwegians.
But, you will argue, if we all became pacifists who would protect our freedom? Isn’t that why we went to war in Iraq and Afganistan? Haven’t our politicians spoken long an eloquently about the need to defend freedom at home and abroad? For the secular, atheist, or those who follow a very different faith, that might be true. But for Christians the meaning of freedom is very different.
For centuries, Christian theologians have ruminated on the meaning of freedom for people of God. Paul himself started the conversation. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Irenaeus, and countless others have spoken of the freedom won for us by Christ. While the term freedom is never used in the gospels, Paul uses it frequently.
Romans 8.21: that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
2 Corinthians 3.17: Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
Galatians 5.1: For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
But neither Paul, nor a single one of our great theologians used freedom as “that thing which can be taken away from a person by a dictator or other government.” Neither did they mean: “the ability to choose how to live, what labor to pursue, etc.” Nor did they mean “that concept or principle which must be defended by military action.”
Paul’s version of freedom, the Christian meaning of the word shines forth in the Norwegian response to their recent tragedy. The Norwegians laid roses, prayed, and laid to rest their dead with open arms. The first funeral to result from the tragedy, of a young immigrant from a muslim family, was carried out with solemnity by an imam and a Lutheran pastor.
While September 11th was followed by speeches by our nation’s leaders crying for justice, and vowing to take the war declared on us to the enemy; Norway’s leaders have called for mourning, love. In the words of one polulist party leader: “All we can do now is to go around hugging and embracing each other. This demonstrates just how united we feel right now…”
The freedom found in Christ is not the freedom to choose as we wish. It is not the freedom to respond in kind, to fill the chasm of our grief with anger and revenge. It is a different kind of freedom. It does not need to be defended, because it cannot be taken away from any who have found it. The freedom of Christians is the freedom of Paul and his churches. It is the freedom to look persecution and violence in the face, and return only love.
Because it is a freedom from fear, guilt, hopelessness, and darkness. In the midst of Stalinist Russia, Christian freedom was not quenched, and when that age came to an end it emerged once more into the light of day; to the amazement of those who do not understand it. It is the light that shines within the soul, light that no amount of darkness can overcome. It is freedom from the cycle of violence begetting violence. That cycle was broken on the cross, by one who had power to meet violence with violence but chose the way of the freedom of God. We inherit that same freedom.
It is not a freedom the world easily recognizes or understands, though wise ones of many faiths (the Dahli Lama comes to mind) would nod and agree. But it is the only true freedom, freedom that comes from surrendering to the slavery of Christ. It is the freedom required to embrace an enemy, to not respond with anger and violence in the face of threat. For those things are born of fear, hopelessness, despair; and for those who have discovered the freedom of God there is Hope, Love, and Peace that passes all understanding. Cling to that, fight with all your heart for these things, for “the sky is weeping.”(Trond Gunnar Rasmussen)
May we cause it to weep over no one else’s head. Amen.