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Volume 13, Issue 3: Flotasm

Freedom Is

Nathan D. Wilson

I have flapped my wings and tried to fly. I also tried flying without flapping them. The sorrowful conclusion has been drawn that such flight is beyond me. On the multiple choice question of transportation, flying like a bird is not listed as an option. This is, of course, a direct violation of my own freedom. Someone has enslaved me and protests are in order.

Freedom is not the ability to succeed at every endeavor. I cannot fly, and yet I am free. Try as I might, I cannot be a blue whale, nor can I even make a noise like one. I am restricted. Do I remain free?
Political freedom is often confused with the removal of influence from any external (or internal) forces. While this is partially true, it is not complete. Freedom is the ability to act in accordance with one's nature. This is not some poorly disguised "be true to yourself." Nature is not merely some inner desire or dream. Nature is design, and freedom is the ability to act within one's design. This design can be self-imposed, or it can be more transcendent. The infant cannot walk, not because he lacks desire, but because it is not natural for him to do so yet. He is only three months old. This also explains why I cannot fly. I am not a bird. My nature confines me. This freedom is true also of God. Even an omnipotent Creator is limited by Himself, though by nothing else. I am limited by Him, as is natural, for mine is the design of creature. He is Creator.
But how does this play into our political freedom, our relationship with our rulers? This becomes more obvious as the definition of nature expands. Nature is not merely physical ability and design, but can also be said to include role. The same infant who cannot walk is born into a role. He is born into a covenant with his parents, his siblings, his God, his country. All of those covenantal relationships are as much a part of his nature as his two legs. They are beyond his control. They are part of his design. The poor fellow was born with them.
When it is said that freedom is the ability to act within one's nature, this includes the covenants that define one's nature. A man is in covenant with his king, and the king is a minister of God appointed for good. This man, as Romans requires, must be subject to the ruler, for the ruler has the ordinance of God. He cannot be free of this obligation anymore than he can be free of his self, for it is part of his self.
With our postmodern minds, we dislike any restriction, especially if it comes in the guise of an absolute or a "nature." While the sense in which nature is here being used is far from the formishness of Aristotle or Plato, it still rubs our fur the wrong way. Modernism mechanized men and thought, and chained us to our oars. It abused absolutes. We are now in the backlash. At the philosophical county fair, we ride the Tilt o' Whirl. Postmodernism has rejected absolutes and restriction. We were not free with modernism; now postmodernism has declared us free, but made the word meaningless. Postmodern freedom is a lack of all restriction and cohesion. Natural freedom functions within restriction—the restriction of design. Design includes our noses, desires, and appetites as well as our obligations. Design includes covenant. Political freedom must always include the ability to function within and keep covenant.
The covenant we have with our ruler, or that any ruled have to their ruler, is binding. It is authoritative. But there are areas that the king cannot infringe upon, and once having done so, may have his crown justly resisted.
These are the other areas of covenant within his subjects' lives, the other aspects of their natures. He may not, and he cannot, have authority over these. When a king chooses to rule in such a way that a husband would fail in his obligations, or a mother would fail in hers, or a pastor in his, then his subjects may rise against him. They must rise against him. This is because they have other obligations before God than simply the one laid out for them in Romans thirteen. In those other obligations they are deputized by God. The father, the son, the wife, the daughter, the bishop, the laymen, they all are in covenants as binding as the one they are in with the king. If he encroaches, it is his injustice, his sin, and let it be on his head. He has attempted manstealing, for he desires to rule the freedoms that are not his to touch, but are his to protect. If the king encroaches in other areas, even unjustly, then his subjects must honor him as God's minister, even though he is acting in abuse.
The minister of God's justice is obliged to protect the freedom of his subjects in regard to their covenants, but he cannot guarantee the freedom of all his subjects. Nor should he. A just king, a man whom the evil fear, encroaches upon the freedom of the evil. The evil men are not free to be evil. If their nature is evil, then the just king is at war with them and does everything in his power to make sure that they are not free. They should not be free to pursue their natures. Freedom under a king will mean either freedom for the righteous or freedom for the unrighteous. But it cannot be both.
Ultimately, natural freedom includes slavery to God. That restriction is fundamental to our very selves as creatures. An obedience of God's law is true freedom, for in that we function within our design and can reach our fullest capacities. Those who pursue unrighteousness will never be free. They leap from the cliff's edge, flapping.

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