One of the most radical Bible texts is found in 2 Corinthians 3:17 where Paul states, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” Just a casual glance at human history tells us that this is not the easiest concept for humans to grasp and implement in our societies. From the Bible times when Nebuchadnezzar attempted to unite the Babylonian Empire through having a common, forced religion to the Middle Ages and the Inquisition and religious wars (fought by both Protestants and Catholics alike) even to our current time where, for example, China is actively repressing Muslim Uighurs. I lived for eight years in the former Soviet Union and Middle East. In each country, there were arguments about what would happen if the government were to offer complete freedom to its inhabitants. People would conjecture, “if we really allow complete religious freedom, there will be so many arguments and problems — and we really need to be united as a nation to face our problems.” They usually came down to the “fact” that if there was freedom in the country — the country would become a mess. It is a difficult thing to grant people freedom to disagree with a majority opinion — especially when we know they are wrong! (tongue in cheek)
However, America has attempted to stand as a beacon to the world in this regard for over two centuries now. Our First Amendment to the Constitution reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridgng the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Our very first amendment to the main document that would be a guiding light for our country was to guarantee this bedrock principle. It hadn’t always come easily in America — the Puritans were ready to punish people in prison or the stocks for missing Sunday services when they first arrived. Presidents have long bemoaned how the press has treated them and has wanted to check their inluence — and yet, we, as a nation, have decided that it is better to be free and allow people to be “wrong” than to be forcibly made “right”.
I invite you to think of this issue from God’s perspective. One of the main questions that unbelievers ask about the existence of a loving God is — “If God is so loving, then why does so much evil exist in the world?” It is a valid question. So let’s assume that God’s main goal is to not have any problems in the universe. The Bible tells us that there was dissent in heaven in Revelation 12 – Satan and his angels protested God and Satan thought he could do a better job than God. According to him, God was unfair (Isaiah 14:12-14, Ezekiel 28:14-18). Now, I personally don’t believe that God is unfair. I believe that is why Jesus had to show the world and the universe that He is loving, compassionate — and just at the same time. But Jesus hadn’t come to Earth yet. So God, in His wisdom, didn’t destroy Satan — and in fact, we see in Genesis 1-3, He even allowed Satan to tempt Adam and Eve to think that God was unjust. According to the Bible, that is the beginning of all of our problems and what led to all evil in our world. Now, if God’s goal had been solely to prevent all of the horrific things that we have seen in our planet’s history, He would have destroyed Satan from the very outset of the argument. However, He didn’t, and in fact, He did just the opposite — He gave him freedom to proclaim his message. I believe that God understands that without freedom, you can’t really achieve love — and because He is love, He grants freedom. This is a good lesson to learn for all sides of political and religious debate in this country — if we really love our country and want others to love our country, we need to take God’s lead and give even our opponents the most robust freedom to disagree with us.
Pastor Doug Hardt