My church group is studying “The Reason for God” by Timothy Keller. This week’s chapter was on the perception that Christianity is a “straitjacket” that compromises our freedom. Keller’s conclusion is excellent:
“What then is the moral-spiritual reality we must acknowledge to thrive? What is the environment that liberates us if we confine ourselves to it, like water liberates the fish? Love. Love is the most liberating freedom-loss of all.
“One of the principles of love – either love for a friend or romantic love – is that you have to lose independence to attain greater intimacy. If you want the “freedoms” of love – the fulfillment, security, sense of worth that it brings – you must limit your freedom in many ways. You cannot enter a deep relationship and still make unilateral decisions or allow your friend or lover no say in how you live your life. To experience the joy and freedom of love, you must give up your personal autonomy. [...]
“A love relationship limits your personal options. Again we are confronted with the complexity of the concept of “freedom.” Human beings are most free and alive in relationships of love. We only become ourselves in love, and yet healthy love relationships involve mutual, unselfish service, a mutual loss of independence. C.S. Lewis puts it eloquently:
“Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.”
“Freedom, then, is not the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us.
“For a love relationship to be healthy there must be a mutual loss of independence. It can’t be just one way. Both sides must say to the other, “I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I’ll serve you even though it means a sacrifice for me.” If only one party does all the sacrificing and giving, and the other does the ordering and taking, the relationship will be exploitative and will oppress and distort the lives of both people.
“At first sight, then, a relationship with God seems inherently dehumanizing. Surely it will have to be “one way,” God’s way. God, the divine being, has all the power. I must adjust to God – there is no way that God could adjust to and serve me.
“While this may be true in other forms of religion and belief in God, it is not true in Christianity. In the most radical way, God has adjusted to us – in his incarnation and atonement. In Jesus Christ he became a limited human being, vulnerable to suffering an death. On the cross, he submitted to our condition – as sinners – and died in our place to forgive us. In the most profound way, God has said to us, in Christ, “I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I’ll serve you though it means a sacrifice for me.” If he has done this for us, we can and should say the same to God and others. St. Paul writes, “the love of Christ constrains us” (2 Cor. 5:14).
“A friend of C.S. Lewis’s was once asked, “is it easy to love God?” and he replied, “it is easy to those who do it.” That is not as paradoxical as it sounds. When you fall deeply in love, you want to please the beloved. You don’t wait for the person to ask you to do something for her. You eagerly research and learn every little thing that brings her pleasure. Then you get it for her, even if it costs you money or great inconvenience. “Your wish is my command,” you feel – and it doesn’t feel oppressive at all. From the outside, bemused friends may think, “she’s leading him around by the nose,” but from the inside it feels like heaven.
“For a Christian, it’s the same with Jesus. The love of Christ constrains. Once you realize how Jesus changed for you and gave himself for you, you aren’t afraid of giving up your freedom and therefore finding your freedom in him.”