Around the 4th of July, we hear a lot about “freedom.” But it appears that a portion of society who celebrate think of freedom and liberty in a different context than the majority. Their idea of freedom is lawlessness – free to do what they want to do no matter what it costs or the disadvantages it brings to others. That’s not what our county’s framers had in mind for Independence Day.

I read about freedom according to a psychologist’s point of view. He says, we all want freedom, but we are not always so sure about what it is or how to attain it. If freedom were merely a matter of not being in a prison cell, then the vast majority of us should be free. Still, we often find ourselves imprisoned by internal anxieties, worries, habits, compulsions, fears, depression, addictions, and false assumptions.

True freedom is primarily a state of mind, not a physical condition; therefore, the study of the mind is central to an inquiry into freedom. Philosophers and theologians have had much to say about the nature of freedom and the mind over the ages, but the discipline of psychology as we know it is relatively new. Psychology, simply put, is the study of the mind. In order to study and understand the mind, we need to observe it. We see how it works by watching what it does. The essential factor is “self-observation,” the consciousness, which is doing the watching. If we ignore “self-observation,” as psychology has largely done until recently, then we may have been looking at the mind from the wrong perspective, like trying to understand it by thinking about it rather than observing it.

Psychologist Alex Lickerman observed that America is a symbol of freedom all over the world, enjoying as it does freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press. Our ancestors prized these political freedoms so much that many of them were willing to die defending them. And though many of us are often accused today of taking them for granted, we continue to see people rising up to fight for them when they’re threatened.

These freedoms, of course, aren’t absolute, says Lickerman. I can’t yell “fire!” in a crowded movie theater when I know there are no fire exits, to cite a famous example of the limitations imposed on free speech. Nor can I threaten to detonate an imaginary bomb on a plane (even writing that phrase in a post is likely to attract the attention of the Office of Homeland Security). Nor, to paraphrase another famous line, can I swing my fist into the space your nose happens to occupy? In other words, to state the obvious, we’re all free within limits.

So, it has always been and so in a civil society must it always be, notes Lickerman. Mostly we don’t notice these limitations because we’ve been programmed not to even think about being released from them (for the most part). And even when someone does want to punch someone else’s nose, the threat of punishment isn’t the only thing that stops them (at least we hope). It’s also the sense that we shouldn’t interrupt someone else’s right not to have their nose punched.

Psychologist John A. Johnson says that it appears to him that people often equate freedom with having a lot of control over things. We think we would rather be the boss who has control over other employees than a subordinate or follower who is under the control of the boss. Psychologists reinforce the idea that control is a good thing. Research on “control” indicates that people with internal control (people who believe they are in control of the rewards they receive in life) are psychologically healthier and more successful than people with external control (people who believe their fate is in the hands of external, uncontrollable factors).

Yet there is a downside, says Johnson, to being in control when it involves trying to control other people, because other people don’t want to be controlled by you any more than you want to be controlled by them. In therapy, we often hear that if we do not like the way in which others are behaving, we are better off changing our feelings about their behavior than trying to change their behavior. The reason for this is that behavioral habits are notoriously difficult to change, even when a person really wants to change his or her habits; if people are not interested in changing their behavior, it is almost impossible to make them change. People who strongly desire to be in control of their so-called freedom often to not realize they are infringing on other people’s freedom by their actions.

But what does God’s Holy Word have to say about freedom? The Bible does not dispute that freedom is controlled by the mind. But it includes the fact that mental freedom brings relief from physical, emotional, and psychological distress.

The Psalmist said, “Out of my distress, I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.”[1]

And the prophet Isaiah declared the Word of the Lord concerning the coming Messiah who would proclaim, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.[2]

That’s why Jesus was able to say, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”[3]

Also, Jesus proclaimed that if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.[4] And the Apostle Peter had a deep insight into the subject of freedom when he said, Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.[5]

Also, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.[6] Furthermore, says Paul, “You were called to freedom, brothers, do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”[7] Then he told the Corinthians, “Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.[8] And to the Romans, he wrote, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become servants of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.[9]

As we can see, freedom is a give-and-take proposition. There are issues in which we must give-in to the other side because it will benefit us as a whole, such as the freedom for people to express their hatred for what we hold near and dear while we can shout our support for the same things. On the other hand, we must reserve the right to take what is ours because of the rights we possess under the Constitution and the law, while those who object must give us that right because it’s lawful for us and for them.

For instance, the freedom to worship God as we see fit and proper while others serve Him in a different manner, or even serve Satan as their God. That is what contributes to a civil and lawful society. And when it comes to tearing down historical statues and emblems, one side should not have the right to smash it to the ground any more than we have the freedom to see it remain standing. It can easily be settled for both sides to agree to put it somewhere (like a museum or special commemorative park) they are not forced to look at it, but we can look at it if we so desire. Oh, that God would grant us this adjustment in our thinking so that we can have a peaceful co-existence as a free society even when we disagree. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

[1] Psalm 118:5

[2] Isaiah 61:1

[3] John 8:32

[4] Ibid. 8:36

[5] 1 Peter 2:16

[6] Galatians 5:1

[7] Ibid. 5:13

[8] 2 Corinthians 3:17

[9] Romans 6:22

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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