We want freedom (but also laws)

Deep down you know, in your soul
Love is in control
Oh, if you could find the angel within
Time, time to have faith in your wings
Free, everybody’s free, yeah
In the new day that’s coming
Freedom for all is our destiny

Robert Miles

Jesus announced good news to the world – and that good news was that “the Kingdom of God is near”. This is one of a series of posts about ways in which our society is longing for the Kingdom of God, although it doesn’t realise it yet. My hope is that they will provide a basis for conversations with friends, relatives and neighbours – and perhaps a gentle provocation to some readers who do not follow Jesus, too. You can see the original post, with links to others in the series, here.

The discussion of politics and culture in our world today does not use the same vocabulary as it did even ten years ago, let alone twenty. One particularly noticeable shift is that divides previously described as “left/right” or “conservative/liberal” now tend to be described in terms of “conservative/progressive” – or in some circles, “backward/progressive”. Most cultures have a directional arrow which constitutes the “progress” society is looking for. For decades, “progress” in Western nations was scientific – the advancement of knowledge; in our current time, it has come to mean the removing of historic social and moral boundaries.

The point of this observation is not to critique those social and moral changes, but rather to note that our cultural appetite is for social boundary-breaking. Those who are on the cutting edge of campaigning for the removal of a given boundary or taboo are heroes, but when the goal is accomplished they cannot rest on that, but are required to continue to push boundaries in order to be accepted – you have only to look at the cultural fate of Germaine Greer to see this in action. This illustrates the fact that our culture values the act of breaking norms and removing boundaries over the value of what is achieved by those actions.

At the same time, we are legislating at a faster rate than ever – I remember a conversation with a lawyer who explained that the pace of legislation was such that legal draughtsmen struggle to keep up, and consequently draft laws that are difficult to enforce. Why is it that we want to do away with past norms and laws, and yet we create even more laws at an unsustainable pace?

Scripturally, rebellion has been a human problem since the first sin, back in Genesis. However, there’s something else at play here too. Some of the difficulty that teenagers have relating to parental rules is that they know that they’re transitioning to a place of greater responsibility, in which they are liable for their own actions, and free to make their own successes and mistakes. Scripture shows us that we, too, were created not for laws but for loving relationship. The letter to the Galatians teaches:

Until the time when we were mature enough to respond freely in faith to the living God, we were carefully surrounded and protected by the Mosaic law. The law was like those Greek tutors, with which you are familiar, who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for.

Galatians 3:23-24 (The Message paraphrase)

We were made to do right out of a place of love and faith, not because the law required it of us. There is something of this instinct in current culture, too – we don’t only want people to behave rightly, we want them to think rightly. So cultural campaigns try to win hearts and minds – but in case that fails, they also campaign for legislation to make it illegal to publicly disagree.

The missing piece in all of this is that the human heart is inherently corrupt. Progressive humanism operates on the basis that humans are either basically good, or at least morally neutral – and that if we can improve our thinking and our conditions sufficiently, human utopia is possible – just take a look at the opening quotation, taken from a 90s pop song. The constant need to enforce these improvements with laws points to the truth being quite the opposite: in its natural condition, without enforced boundaries, humanity is self-destructive and greedy, and needs to be controlled.

The solution to this is regeneration, or being born again. Paul explains that while we start life enslaved to sin, when we turn to Christ and are filled with His Spirit, we are dead to that old state of affairs, and alive to a new way of living. Before, our hearts were drawn to sin and occasionally we managed to salvage a semi-noble act from them; now, our hearts are drawn to God, but we occasionally slip or rebel.

This is the Kingdom of God which Jesus introduces – one in which our default attitude and behaviour changes. In His Kingdom, laws can be rendered unnecessary by a change of heart: we don’t need to be told not to stab someone if we leave the house with an armload of gifts to distribute. We won’t cross that line, because we’re running in the opposite direction. If we grasp the meaning of the Good Samaritan, of “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbour as yourself”, then we end up where Jesus does in the sermon on the mount: “you have heard it said ‘do not murder’; but I say to you don’t even get angry with your brother … you’ve heard it said ‘do not commit adultery’; but I say to you don’t even look lustfully at a woman.” This is possible – but only if we ask God to make us new, and to fill us with His Spirit.

In a recent conversation, a neighbour of mine said, “I’d thought when I moved to the charitable sector that everyone would be noble and altruistic, but there’s the same ladder-climbing and politics as you’d find in a corporation.” Have you ever had conversations like this around whether humans are inherently good? How might you explain to someone what difference it makes to be born again?