There is no need to recount the multiple ways people have tried to establish their own freedoms through the centuries. It is our own recent decades’ creative new freedoms that call for attention. No longer is it enough, for example, to be free to behave oneself sexually as one chooses. Now there are many who are calling for the freedom to define one’s sex regardless of one’s sex.
I didn’t put that quite right—at least, not for most of those who seek that “freedom.” I should have written of it as “the freedom to define one’s gender identity,” where “gender” refers to the roles (“masculine” or “feminine”; the scare quotes are de rigeur) one accepts for oneself.
Here’s how Peter Likins, then-president of the University of Arizona, defined gender identity on behalf of the university in 2006. It is (he said)
an individual's actual or perceived gender, including an individual's self-image, appearance, expression, or behavior, whether or not that self-image, appearance, expression, or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the individual's sex at birth as being either female or male.
Likins had much more in mind than whether a child plays with trucks or dolls. At Arizona (the same article goes on to say),
In honor of Transgender Awareness week, [Jeanne] Kleespie announced, the UA Center for Student Involvement and Leadership would host the showing of a documentary film called “Toilet Training” for those who wanted to learn more about “restroom access as it pertains to the transgender community.”
Kleespie was the University’s Assistant Vice President for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action. The article goes on to speak of “the restroom access movement, which “insists that division of male/female bathrooms is inherently oppressive to those who have a flexible concept of sexual difference.”
The U.S Department of Justice supported such a restroom access initiative this year at the University of Arkansas, and TIME magazine has reported on at least one related case at the high school level.
“Flexible concepts” like these bring rebelliousness down to new depths. The demand being made is not only to be free from behavioral restrictions but from the cords of reality itself. In a sense all rebellion against God is against reality, but this is so in a new way. Male does not equal male, female is not female, but all is what one chooses, regardless of the (ahem) “limiting” circumstances of one’s sex at birth.
The current assault on marriage can be seen similarly. It amounts to rebellion not just against what one ought to do, but against what marriage actually is. For if marriage is (among other things) essentially the union of a man and a woman (as it is), then the freedom same-sex “marriage” activists seek is not just to redirect behaviors but to redefine reality.
What does reality say in response? “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision” (Psalm 2:4). Reality turns out not to be so readily molded to our will, after all. The God at the heart of it all has advice as well (Psalm 2:10-12):
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest He be angry, and you perish in the way,
for His wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.
There are stern warnings here. Reality is a hard rock that stands solid against any attempted rebellion. So the promise of refuge that follows those warnings seems abrupt and almost out of place—except to those who know that God’s Word habitually offers hope and help alongside danger and warning.
More jarring yet, especially for those who have only known Christianity as a system of rules and restrictions, is the genuine freedom God offers. “It is for freedom that Christ set us free,” says the apostle Paul (Galatians 5:1-6). The life of rules and restrictions is “a yoke of slavery” to which no believer should subject himself or herself. Shortly thereafter (verses 13-14) Paul urges us to live free to love:
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
I’ve written of this passage as a matter of remembering that the map isn’t the fuel. If I had space I would take a much longer look at both the passage and the topic, for it is crucial to our lives as Christians. There is another urgent matter I want to attend to instead, however. It is the idea of freedom within the bounds of reality.
I have often wished I could cut the cords of reality, to be something or someone other than who God created me to be. Sometimes when I’m in that mood I think of the fable of the kite. I would be glad to credit its source, but I heard it too long ago to remember. The fable itself has stayed with me, though.
There was a kite that thought its string was holding it down. If only I could free myself of that miserable string, it thought, then I would be free! I wouldn’t be stuck here as I am in one place. I wouldn’t have to do what that girl on the ground makes me do. I could choose my own course. I could fly with the birds, and soar as high as the clouds! So the kite fought and fought, and finally freed itself from its string. And then it learned as it plummeted to the ground what such freedom really meant.
Kites can fly because of what they are, and that is not something of their own choosing. Nor are they what they are in isolation. They are made by others, for a purpose, and they are made to be what they are in relation to other realities like strings and weather.
Human beings are what we are. Being created in God’s image, we have considerable freedom to choose how we live and express ourselves. We even have freedom to cut ourselves loose from the metaphorical strings that seem to tie us down. Granted, there are false and illusory bonds from which we really ought to free ourselves, but there are cords of reality too, and if we cut them we will fall.
This must be so, because being created in God’s image, our freedom is not absolute. We were not made for ourselves. We were made for a purpose, and we have been made to be what we are in relation to other realities: people, the rest of creation, and especially God.
If God’s ways get in our way, it is because the way we’ve chosen leads toward a precipice. And there is indeed a cliff looming for our culture as it seeks to loose itself from the cords of reality. Christians who resist culture’s headlong rush may seem to be standing against freedom. We aren’t. We’re standing for the freedom to be who and what humans really are, as God made us.
It is the freedom to be real. It is the only real freedom.
Tom Gilson is a writer, ministry strategist, and speaker, and author/host of the Thinking Christian blog. He’s closely involved in developing curriculum for global discipleship use through Campus Crusade for Christ, and in co-founding a new Life Leader Institute at King’s Domain near Cincinnati.