As we commemorate the 240th anniversary of America’s independence from Great Britain, I’m sure an analysis of search engine traffic would reveal that words like “freedom” and “liberty” are trending heavily. In fact, it probably doesn’t take a patriotic holiday to generate discussion and debate among Americans about freedom. Just our social media feeds alone tell us that we converse and curse about our freedom almost daily. We are a nation that places a premium on freedom.
So why is it that we are so dissatisfied with the state of our freedom today?
A Gallup poll taken in July 2014 revealed that Americans are more dissatisfied with the state of their freedom than they were only seven years previously. When asked, “are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what you do with your life?”, the percent of Americans dissatisfied with their freedom more than doubled from the previous poll.
Our dissatisfaction is so profound that the United States, whose Declaration of Independence and subsequent revolution have been a model for global freedom movements throughout history, is not even in the top quartile of the 120 nations polled about how they feel about their freedom. The poll put us at 36th – 36th! – among the nations for satisfaction with our freedom. How could this be in “the land of the free”?
The pollsters offer explanations such as the economy or our distrust in government, and recent polls certainly reflect that our faith in the economy and government respectively continues to falter. Minorities, women and members of the LGBTQIA community perceive themselves as victims of ongoing oppression, as do working class and poor whites who feel their country has marginalized them, if not abandoned them altogether. People of faith who hold to orthodox beliefs feel that they are no longer free to live out their faith, while non-believers insist their freedoms are compromised by religious dogma. Freedom is so elusive because everyone thinks someone else is more free than they are, and they keep looking to flawed institutions to either grant them their freedom or keep it from being taken away.
We are particularly expectant of government when it comes to our freedom, yet the irony is that government’s willingness to defend our freedom is only as effective as our vigilance to hold government accountable for doing so. To the extent that we have failed in our duties to give “the consent of the governed” to our political institutions, they have proceeded on their own trajectory, as the founders and many American leaders since that time predicted.
The founders, from the inception of our constitutional republic, warned that government would fail us if we didn’t keep it under constant surveillance. Benjamin Franklin, when asked as he emerged from the final session of the 1787 constitutional convention what form of government they’d crafted, famously replied, “A republic, if you can keep it."
Speaking in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1876, then Congressman James Garfield expanded on Franklin's succinct yet accurate response:
Now If the next centennial does not find us a great nation … it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces.
These sentiments were echoed in 1967 by the then newly inaugurated governor of California Ronald Reagan, who declared:
Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again.
The founders and statesmen of times past clearly understood that an unchecked government could not be entrusted with our freedom. They were, however, simply imparting Biblical wisdom from thousands of years ago.
When the people of Israel cried out for a king to rule over them, the Lord was unyielding in the warning he asked the prophet Samuel to relay to His people:
So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day” (1 Samuel 8:10-18).
The Psalmist declares in Psalm 118:9, “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes”, and he repeats himself in Psalm 146:3, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.”
History confirms that nations and kingdoms are not permanent, and their benevolence is not assured. Moreover, the Lord reminds us that “He makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and leads them away” (Job 12:23). Entrusting something as precious as our freedom with an institution as fallible and untrustworthy as government would appear to be ill-advised.
The Lord is also quite clear on where we should look for our freedom:
Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free (Psalm 118:5).
I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts (Psalm 119:45).
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36).
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).
Sadly, despite this knowledge, Christians in America openly lament and curse the erosion of their earthly freedom, and if they truly trusted the Lord they profess to serve, I submit that they should be the freest people in the world, even if being a confessing Christian as opposed to a professing Christian is harder in today’s America than ever before.
The entire Word of God speaks to freedom being found in God alone, and that freedom is not dependent on external circumstances. The apostle Paul praised the Lord for his freedom despite a life of constant risk to his safety and freedom, and his eventual imprisonment and execution. He offered the secret to his contentment – isn’t contentment, after all, the ultimate freedom? – in Philippians 4:11-13 when he wrote:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Professing Christians say that they believe in Jesus Christ, but their fears, anger and anxiety about the world lead me to ask, "Yes, you believe in Him, but do you believe Him?" God's promises are rich and deep and should give us lasting contentment independent of our circumstances, but our words and behavior suggest that we don't trust Him to keep His Word. In Matthew 9:28, two blind men followed Jesus, looking to Him for healing:
When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.”
That is the question Jesus asks us today: "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" Confessing Christians put all their faith and trust in the Lord, despite what the world around them says or does, and in doing so they are free from fear, want, anxiety and even death since accepting him freely as our Lord and Savior is freedom from the seeming finality of our earthly demise - "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand (John 10:28).
Do you believe He is able to do this? If you do, then you are free, and every day, not just today, is Independence Day.