It is the anniversary of the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ attacks this month, and I was having a little think about what it means. It centred on the idea of freedom, and that even if doing something or saying something, or criticising something publically, or expressing something that may cause other people to get angry, or in the case of the Charlie Hebdo cartoon, drawings of the prophet Mohammad, which I haven’t seen nor particularly have any desire to see, to kill other people violently and indiscriminately because of a cartoon, even if it provokes such sentiments and actions, the right to draw that cartoon, basically the right to offend others overrides any sense of responsibility of whatever happens afterwards.
After the American War of Independence, when those pesky Yanks gave us domineering Brits the ‘order of the boot’, someone expressed the sentiment that ‘the price of freedom is eternal vigilance’. It sounds really good, and I come closer to thinking it truer than I did at one time. My view before was always that if you had to be eternally vigilant, constantly watching, then somehow that ‘bee in your bonnet’ so to speak would actually rob of you peace, or at least some of it. Does that make sense to you? My idea of peace was, for a long time, to have nothing to worry me, no problems, to be able to sit down and feel at one with God, people and the world in general. To have no worries, basically. Now, in some senses, that is peace. But, it’s not the complete picture. There is a kind of peace that could separate you from everything, even reality itself, and it could separate you from people as well. You could eventually see everything and anything, and anyone, who came along as disturbing your equilibrium, but ultimately that would not be real peace, and that equilibrium would be very fragile indeed.
Jesus didn’t come down into an English garden fete, or a quaint and affluent New England folksy small town, where everyone was rather nice and affable and friendly, He came right down in the middle of life in all its rawness, ugliness, pain, suffering, but also amongst the great mass of ordinary people with their joys, laughter, family problems and possibly dreams of a better life or a life where they could feed their families and be content. The Middle East now is hardly a place of peace, and back then it was no different. Yet Jesus is born slap bang in the middle of troubles, was a refugee, a fleeing immigrant, was escaping a violent death, and born to people who in worldly terms at least were of little consequence and low born, and He was born in a stable! And you think you’ve got troubles?!! He was conceived, born in the middle of, and lived right amongst trouble, and was troubled right at the end of His short life...yet, He is called the Prince of Peace!!!
Peace is not the absence of troubles, although there is no reason why we cannot ask God to help us and to get rid of anything troubling us, peace is, I believe, holistic and covers many things, but God’s peace is a peace that the world cannot give. It’s as simple, and as difficult, as that. If we pray for God’s peace, it is something He will give us. Usually not straightaway, but as a process. Also, and I speak from direct experience, when God starts to bring peace into your life, an inner peace that enables you to sit and enjoy that peace, and a peace that enables you to get on with your life, job, family, friends, leisure, pleasure and necessities, He also starts to heal physical and health problems, emotional problems, past hurts and resentments, and many other things too, if you ask Him. In this way, peace is an inner spiritual reality that will affect how you behave and see things around you, but it is also God resolving all kinds of issues too, that may take some time, but He will bring peace in all its forms... if you ask Him.
Now, I’ve possibly wondered off a little here, but peace and freedom often seem synonymous, but in actual fact the word freedom, like peace, is often either misunderstood or misused, and sometimes both. What is freedom? Well, it seems that in a world where most people tend to be selfish, even naturally and without malice, freedom can mean different things to different people. Sometimes radically different things. Freedom without boundaries can actually be the biggest prison of all, particularly when those boundaries are moral ones. Look at the state of the world now, and all the evil, injustice, unfairness, growing economic divisions, religious intolerance from all sides, political mismanagement, hunger, poverty, wars, sexual perversion, hypocrisy, double standards and so many other things that human beings with no consideration for others do to each other. We are all a part of that until we accept that this is the way the world is, and most of the humans in it, who put themselves first and not the true will of God. And, just what is the will of God, anyway?
So, we return back to Charlie Hebdo. Now, on one side we have the French magazine and obviously the cartoonists and staff who decide that it is a good idea to mock Mohammad the major prophet of the Islamic faith, and on the other we have people acting in the name of Islam, presumably Muslims, who decide to violently murder those responsible with machine guns, and a number of other innocent people who happened to get caught up in it, too. The situation boils down to a number of salient points. One is the freedom to say and do exactly what you want, whether that offends or not, also perhaps the idea that if it riles people, well, tough. That notion of ‘freedom’ overrides common sense and is really about ego, and not a great deal more. Another is the idea that if you are offended to the extreme, by something which is ultimately truly harmless, you have the right to violently attack and even kill those people, thinking that you are perfectly right, and from a religion that is continually proclaimed to be a religion of peace. But that is another story, for another time. I will add here that I have Muslim friends who are not religious nutbars, and that most Muslims in the UK are law abiding and want to get on, find work and raise their families, like most everyone else. Anyway, freedom to do what each side wanted to do, on both sides, without consideration for others, resulted in the violent murder of 17 people. So, in the end, are we saying that freedom to what you want overrides those people’s deaths? Are we also saying that the response, which was horrifyingly violent, murderous and destructive, is acceptable if freedom simply comes down to people doing what they want because they want to do it? Well, is it?
There is no true freedom without law, and there is no real freedom until we ask God to help us keep those laws, whilst regarding others as important to God as we are and living our day to day lives, in all its chaos, complications, struggles, joy and sometime pain. Ultimately, for a Christian, and I can’t and won’t speak for any other faith because I don’t really know, it is being completely obedient to Jesus whatever the world at large does or doesn’t do, and whatever passing secular moral trends and secular faiths like political correctness come and eventually go, as they all do. It is really what you build your life on that is most important.
24"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matthew 8:24-25 NIV)
The ‘Rock’ is Jesus, of course. Without a solid rock to cling to, we might all be washed away when the storms come. I believe that it is vitally important to build your life, in the long term, short term and right now, on something that is true and that helps you overcome all the negative in life and find joy in the positive and the many blessings of God, and accepting whatever comes. Only Jesus has ever done that for me.
Freedom in Jesus is not to subsume our personality, intrinsically the very essence of who we are uniquely, to the crowd and whatever they do or don’t believe, it is to hold fast to what we know is truth in Him, in authoritative biblical scripture and teachings, and standing for something that is true and real, rather than falling for anything that comes along, as things do in the world out there. That freedom in Him also means we can be ourselves, have a sense of humour, a point of view, a sense of who we are without recourse to other people, but also to regard other people with the same respect you hope for yourself. Freedom in Jesus is not egotistical and self indulgent or just an excuse to do whatever you want and use your ‘faith’, as it is, as a ‘get out of jail’ card, our freedom is to live beyond our sinful natures, to ask God into every area of our lives and be transformed from being selfish and self centred, to learning to be selfless, in the best sense of the word, and God centred. That is true freedom.
31To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32 NIV)