My Christian Ethics Prof would bring a rubber band into class from time to time, playing with it as he lectured on the essential tension inherent in some ethical questions. A rubber band is useless without tension. The right amount of tension and it holds things together; too much tension and it breaks. What can Jesus teach us about the delicate but essential tension of the ethical life of our nation?
Freedom and Justice in America
Happy Fourth of July! Every year we celebrate our Independence — the day, July 4, 1776, when the Continental Congress declared that the thirteen American colonies were no longer subject to the monarch of Britain and were now united, free, and independent states.
Free from the tyranny of King George III, but not necessarily free from the tyranny within.
For instance, at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, more than 350,000 slaves had been shipped to America, and many more thousands had been born into slavery.
Freedom was birthed in an ugly tension with justice. It was a tension that did not escape many of the Founding Fathers.
It’s always a joy to celebrate the freedom we experience in our country. It’s always a good thing to remember those who have fought and died both to win it and to keep it alive.
The Founding Fathers gave us a beautiful and delicate gift in our freedom. Every generation, it seems, has had to grapple with the tension of keeping the gift alive.
Our founding documents foreshadowed the tension.
Freedom, Justice, and the Essential Tension
The declaration of Independence set the tone for our freedom when it declared that our nation was formed to secure the rights of each person to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Later, the U.S. Constitution clarified the goal to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity …”
Notice the words liberty and justice in the same sentence.
It’s in our pledge — “… one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Liberty and Justice for all. That never happens without tension.
We are experiencing an intense, complicated, and essential tension today; a necessary tension if the great American experiment in freedom is to survive.
Jesus and the Essential Tension
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. – John 8:36
Jesus came to give us freedom and justice. The freedom we have in our country is but a shadow image – an earthly simile – an imperfect copy of the eternal, spiritual freedom that Jesus gives us. Perhaps in our quest for a “more perfect union,” we can learn from Jesus.
Three Ways Jesus Gave Us Freedom
Jesus understood the tension between freedom and justice. There are (at least) three ways in which Jesus brought both freedom and justice.
1. Jesus brought freedom for us as the oppressed.
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” — Luke 4:1
Jesus came preaching good news for those whose lives were filled with bad news. He came to preach to the poor, the hurting, the outcast, and the forgotten (Lk. 4:18-19). He spoke of banquets where everyone was invited to attend (Matt. 22:9). He healed the sick (Mark 1:32; 6:55). He gave sight to the blind (Jn. 9:32). He touched the unclean and made them clean (Lk. 5:13). He wrapped his arms around the untouchables, the outcasts, and the sinners.
Jesus came to proclaim that each person is of ultimate value to God, no matter their station or situation in life. In so doing, he freed us from the oppressive forces of shame and condemnation (Rom. 8:1).
Jesus is always on the side of the oppressed and the marginalized no matter how complicit they are in their suffering. If you stand with Jesus, you invariable stand with them.
2. Jesus brought freedom for us as human beings.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” — Galatians 3:28
Jesus leveled the playing field. He freed us by erasing the lines that we draw. We are not all the same – we don’t all have the same gifts – we don’t all begin life at the same starting line — but, we are all equal in value in the eyes of Jesus.
- Jesus healed Gentiles as well as Jews (Matt. 15:28).
- Jesus cared for the slave as well as the free (Matt. 18:13).
- Jesus called women as well as men to be his disciples (Matt. 27:55; Lk. 8:1-3; 10:39, 42; Rom. 16:1, 7).
I don’t have the space to tell you how radically tension-filled this was in Jesus’ day. I’ll just say this — they crucified him. That’s what we usually do to those who think like Jesus.
3. Jesus brought freedom for us as sinners.
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” — John 8:32
Ultimately, Jesus came to free us from slavery to sin. We have no ability to conquer the sin that enslaves us. Paul tells us that slavery to sin is a part of the human condition (Rom. 3:23). He also tells us that this sin condition leads to spiritual and physical death (Rom. 6:23).
Our only hope is the saving love and grace of Jesus (Rom. 10:9-10). Jesus came to give us life (John 10:10). His life liberates us from the oppressive forces of evil. It frees us from the threat of sin and death (Rom. 8:2).
Stay safe this 4th of July season.
Celebrate your freedom.
Pray and work for justice.
Enjoy your family … and the freedom you have in Jesus!