Today, in the USA, it is Veterans Day. This is a holiday reserved for honoring those brave men and women who have given up so much for a cause greater than themselves. And as I sit here and reflect on what exactly that means I am in conflict.
For those who have served your bravery and sacrifice is admirable. If all people were so selfless this world would be a better place. My conflict is not with you. My conflict lies in what is being fought for – freedom.
Fact: I live in a place where I can voice my opinion free from prosecution.
Fact: I’ll go to bed tonight in relative security – I’m pretty sure that I’ll sleep safely and free from worry.
I admit those liberties. They are nice to have. But as a Christian those are not necessities for a life of following Jesus. Jesus speaks of freedom and Paul won’t shut up about it but the freedom they speak of has nothing to do with speech, national security, cheap fuel, debt, trades, or even safety.
Sometime around A.D. 110 Ignatius, an early church father, was arrested and sentenced to fight in the Roman Coliseum . For those of you who have seen the movie Gladiator the story is similar: Ignatius was captured as a slave and forced to enter an arena designed for slaughter. On his way he wrote a letter to his contemporary and dear brother in Christ, Polycarp. He wrote, “..let the slaves serve more faithfully to the glory of God, that they may obtain a better freedom from God.” He died in the arena the death of a slave but with a few final exhortations that I believe should help to focus our thoughts on this subject. He, like Paul, encouraged slaves to serve more faithfully in their captivity so that they might understand freedom to be something deeper than social liberty (this does not validate slavery but refocuses our understanding of freedom). Jesus calls us to “a better freedom.”
A paradox of following Jesus is that we are to be both in the world, but not of the world. This manifests itself most clearly in the early church of Acts. They paid their taxes because they knew that Caesar was not Lord. From their end they lived in peace and when persecuted, even violently, they died willingly for the sake of love. They literally formed a new way of living that was so different than the rest of the world that people flocked to join – even at the risk of death. They did not live for security but lived to further the Kingdom of God in their midst. History tells us that when Rome was plagued with disease and people were leaving by the thousands the Christians intentionally stayed to take care of the sick who were being abandoned, again at the risk of death. They were in the world but believed so much in another world that they couldn’t “help but enact it” in their midst (Claiborne). The freedom they believed in was a freedom that was better.
If America’s freedom is taken away the Christians should be the first to embrace their lot because the Kingdom we believe in is better than any earthly kingdom. If our “rights” are violated that’s not a problem – we have given up our rights for something better. If we are called to die for the sake of love may it be added to our credit as righteousness.
But where in our great tradition is our call to take life? It can’t be found. At what sacrifice is our security bought? Security is superficial. I am thankful for our police force, I am thankful for anybody willing to sacrifice their life to save another. I admire the great virtues espoused by our veterans. But I cannot celebrate taking life for a freedom that, like all earthly treasures, won’t last. Our freedom is found in Christ and that is enough.
How would I react if my family were being threatened? I have no idea. I admit that I might even act out in violence but one cannot be sure until they are faced with such circumstances. What I hope is that I am such a slave to Christ in that moment that I act only out of Love both for my family and my enemy.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.