Years ago, my friend Brian told me a story about Harriet Tubman, a black woman who escaped to the North at the brink of the Civil War. Tubman is famous for her work in the “Underground Railroad,” which consisted largely of her 19 visits back to the South to free slaves during America’s bloodiest time. Tubman, for the last century and a half has become a symbol of freedom for her people.
We learned about Harriet Tubman in school, but Brian’s story has stuck with over the past few years. He told the story of some runaway slaves that presented a unique problem on their way to freedom. They were trying to escape.
Can you imagine that? A man who has spent his whole life being beaten by another man who “owned” him, plotting to return to his abuser? For generations totaling up nearly 250 years, this people on the run had been subject to every injustice and human indecency we can imagine.
Can you picture coming home from work to find your wife and children sold to an unnamed plantation owner? The life of a slave in America from early in the 17th Century to late in the 19th Century was marked by helplessness and oppression.
Freedom had become an abstract concept.
And in a lot of ways, we can identify with the impulse to run from freedom. We do the same thing every day.
Our Escape From Freedom
At least part of our problem originates in the fact that freedom is still an abstract concept. Does freedom mean the ability to choose our own religion, our own denomination, our own church, our own beer, our own set of standards and our own code of ethics? Maybe. Does freedom mean that our choices will be made without consequence? It could be that this question is more to the point. What will be the result of our choices?
For instance, I may be free to slash the tires of the red BMW I’m looking out the window at, but I cannot expect that the old man walking back to his car will be content to end our interaction civilly. There will be consequences to my decisions. The same goes for the smallest to the largest of decisions.
All of our decisions will have consequences; the question becomes, what are we using our freedom for?
To begin to answer that question, we have to see freedom as a result of a bleeding Divinity on a wooden cross. Freedom is a result of the life, death, burial, descent into hell, resurrection, ascension, mediation and promised return of Jesus. This is what the Apostle Paul was aiming at when he wrote: For freedom Christ has set us free.
What Is Freedom For?
And do you know what he talks about right after saying those words we love to parrot? He goes right for the throat. Freedom serves the end purpose of 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.
Freedom in Christ does not only mean that we are freed from the command to keep the Law of God perfectly (though it certainly means that, according to Paul’s same letter), it means that we are now free to look beyond ourselves. We are now free to love.
And at first, this freedom is every bit as abstract and terrifying as the new life Harriet Tubman was leading her people towards in the Underground Railroad. But she had a solution. She spoke softly and carried a bit stick some fifty years before Teddy Roosevelt took office in 1901. Harriet Tubman was liable to pull a musket on you if you defected from freedom.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit works like that, too. He calls us into freedom and we want to stay addicted to our selves. He calls us into a new life and we yearn for death. He calls us into the light and we hide in the darkness. But he loves us too much to leave us looking lovingly into the mirror.
The road to life is narrow, hard and treacherous, but it is sure. Tubman boasted of her success rate as a reflection of the Holy Spirit. She said:
I never ran my train off the track, and I never lost a passenger.
The road to freedom is the road to love and He has yet to lose a passenger. Will you trust him enough to stay in line, or will you meet with his discipline time and again?
Either way, he won’t lose you.