Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Dependence Day

Here we find ourselves again, that day on which we wear clothes with red, white, and blue on them; wave flags; eat barbecue; watch parades and fireworks; and go on vacation with the family. A day of celebration. The Fourth of July. But is this what the Fourth is all about? Have we forgotten its alternate name; Independence Day? What does independence really mean?

Americans are free. We can pursue almost any goal and do almost anything without care of any spiritual, legal, or national repercussions. We do what we want, when we want, and nobody can tell us otherwise. But is this a good conceptualization of freedom?

So, we have two running concepts: independence and freedom. While we tend think of these concepts as linked, maybe we should see them separately. So let us examine what these concepts mean and their contextual, not etymological, origins.

Independence. Long before any of us were born, settlers were filling this land, settlers who fled religious persecutions, taxation, the whims of kings, and famines. They wound up in colonies that were still oppressed and taxed by the nation they came from. Eventually, these burdens grew so heavy the colonists revolted. War ensued between the American colonies and their sovereign, Great Britain. This was our Revolutionary War. We overcame better trained and outnumbering forces to win our independence. We recognize July Fourth, 1776 as our Independence Day, although it was merely the day our colonial congress ratified the Declaration of Independence, not the day we won the war. Independence was won from tyranny in order to develop a new and sovereign nation of peers. This bitter independence was the fruit of great adversity and self-sacrifice, not selfishness and lazy arrogance.

The spirituality of the age was Deism and Unitarianism, a denial of miracles and a possibly mis-focused self-reliance. Yet most people of the time still recognized a sovereign God and directed prayer to Him, realizing their utter dependence on his Word and providence. Despite their independence from Great Britain, they were dependent on God.

Today, we are a nation of consumers. We demand our own way and angrily accost any who do not give us what we want. Our nation (and, subsequently, the whole world) has been brought to its knees because of a chronic infection of selfishness. We have become a people carried completely by our whims for a single reason - a loss of the concept of the sovereignty of God. God's sovereignty has been replaced by a belief in the sovereignty of the individual. Our battle for independence is no longer against flesh and blood but against the one unseen Ruler who brought all things into being and shaped us for his own glory; the greatest affront to humanistic sensibilities. This kind of independence is sinful at its core.

Freedom. If independence is self-reliance, what is freedom? Freedom may be thought of synonymously with liberty, the ability to perform actions or pursue ends by one's own volition. In this sense, freedom is linked to independence. In this conceptualization, freedom may only occur when one is independent. It is for this concept that the revolutionaries wrote, fought, bled, and died. "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." These are considered inalienable rights, that is they are reckoned to be inherent to humanity, and may not be taken away by any healthy government.

But what makes these rights inherent? What is innate in man that gives him rights beyond the rest of creation? After all, we would not consider these rights to operate upon the life of a goat, would we? These rights are not inherent in man's nature by the act of man or the grace of man, or merely because of the sum of his parts. Instead, these rights are inherent because of the image of God placed within man and separating him from the rest of creation. I think this is a concept that was widely recognized within the generation of our nation's founders; a concept that has been almost completely lost in our present society.

Liberty, freedom, should not be seen as merely the ability to pursue one's own ends, but to pursue the right ends. Put another way, we are not given freedom for selfish pursuits, but freedom from selfish pursuits and for submission. We are free to worship God rightly and to avoid sin rather than be enslaved by it (Romans 8:8-21). Who experience these truly inalienable rights? Only those in Christ; all others are slaves to sin (Romans 6:19-21). Jesus has restored the perfect image of God within man and stands in our place (Romans 3:21-26; Ephesians 5:2b). He also gives us the Holy Spirit who changes our hearts and actions (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). Freedom then has suffered a redefinition within our society and must be redefined back to a biblical understanding. Without God, his law and grace, there can be no freedom.

So we have established that we have been celebrating wrong concepts. Rather than celebrating our liberty to do as we please, offending a holy God, we should celebrate a liberty to obey a holy God and worship him rightly. Our only meaningful independence is quickly shown to be independence from the tyranny of sin and complete dependence on the sovereign nature and will of God. You cannot serve two masters and you cannot set yourself up as a god because you were not created in your own image. We were designed with certain inalienable qualities, the chief being our given image of God. Those who know Jesus Christ, through his Holy Spirit, should operate in dependence upon him. Those who do not know Jesus Christ should see their depravity and marred image and repent of their sin.

Now that the fourth is nearly over and there is time to reflect, I would suggest we offer our declaration of dependence. Gladly, this can be done any day. Happy Dependence Day!

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