“You Will Be Free Indeed”1
In the Judeo-Christian tradition God is the Supreme Being who created the universe out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo).2 As the Creator, God is transcendently above, outside and apart from all that is made. God is always dominant; creatures are always under the administration of law.3
Even before the dawn of self-consciousness, this order was evidenced by mankind’s possession of “god-consciousness”4 and an abiding sense of transcendence. Furthermore, with the emergence of language, mankind (male and female) began to use words as metaphors of observed reality. Because observed reality involved the dominance of God over all creatures and the dominance of creatures over other creatures, language and, therefore, consciousness reflected this hierarchical or vertical order. It was only natural for mankind to conclude that it possessed the right to dominate on earth as God dominates “in heaven.” World cultures and civilizations emerged from this vertical concept of dominance and submission. This concept led to the domestication of the primal elements — fire, earth, wind, waves — and to the birth of technology. It led to the domestication of plants and animals and to the birth of agriculture. Furthermore, it led to the domestication of other human beings.5 Parents could dominate children. Men could dominate women. The strong could dominate the weak. The rich could dominate the poor. The “chosen” could dominate the “non-chosen.” The vertical concept of dominance and submission led to dreams of world conquest and to wars of subjugation and extermination.
The Concept of “Sovereignal Freedom”
. . . [Ultimately,] this power to rule came to be seen as freedom. [For example,] . . . the [Persian] wars would free Greeks from domination and affirm their natural superiority: Greeks were born to rule barbarians. [Greek] . . . playwrights and philosophers consistently used the word this way: “Freedom . . . meant the freedom to rule over others.” At first sovereignal freedom extended only to Greek aristocrats. Then it stretched to empower non-noble citizens who had distinguished themselves in battle, and the value of sovereignal freedom took on overtones of valor, glory, honor and aristocratic responsibility. Finally, Plato’s last works depict the ideal state as an autocracy, in which benevolent rulers head a hierarchy of “willing submission to virtuous laws.” Nearly everyone in Greek society had some power over inferiors: at the bottom, slaves were “socially dead” and didn’t count.6
This concept of freedom was not restricted to the Greeks. Like many others, the Hebrews shared its ideal and extended it to the religious realm. They believed themselves to be the chosen agents of the divine covenant to subdue the world to God. When their dream of sovereignal freedom was finally frustrated, the Hebrews turned to apocalyptic. If they could not subdue the world to God, then God himself would come and subdue the world to himself and to his covenantal partners.
Finally, God did come in the Person of Jesus Christ. He came at a time when Rome exercised unchallenged sovereignal freedom as a world empire. But his followers believed that this obscure Jewish teacher also had power. And indeed he did have power. He commanded the wind and waves. He transformed water into wine. He multiplied the loaves and fishes. He expelled disease and deformity. He cast out demons. He raised the dead. Though eventually slain, he rose in majesty with a promise to return, his disciples believed, in power and glory to exercise his sovereignal freedom over the entire world.
The Legacy of “Sovereignal Freedom”
Thus, Christianity was born with the renewed dream of sovereignal freedom — the power to rule the world under the risen God. Over the centuries Christianity therefore assumed world power and claimed the freedom to subdue mankind for God. The blood of 50 million victims of persecution, crusades and other religious wars bears mute testimony to Christianity’s millennial lust for power. For centuries European political leaders also claimed the “‘liberty of gallows’ — their grisly freedom . . . to hang anybody they pleased.”7 In the 20th century Hitler used the presumed sovereignal freedom of the Aryan race to justify the murder of six million innocent Jews. In his lust for power, Joseph Stalin, a former seminary student, liquidated more than 20 million kulaks, dissidents and other “undesirables.” We could address other unspeakable crimes, conspiracies and human calamities. Yet all these atrocities pale into insignificance before an evangelical God who exercises sovereignal freedom by domesticating believers to his transcendence and by condemning unnumbered helpless human beings to eternal fire and damnation. Such is the tragic legacy of sovereignal freedom.
Under the psychotic mask of sovereignal freedom, mankind today possesses the ability and drive to dominate the human race and bring the entire world to the point of destruction. Paradoxically, such domination ultimately would leave no one and nothing to control or even exist. Therefore, in destroying its existential world, sovereignal freedom would finally destroy itself. In the end, such “freedom” is bondage and extinction.
The End of “Sovereignal Freedom”
In this stark context we now readdress the matter of human freedom. Did the transcendent God intend for all creatures to remain as objects to be subdued and finally exterminated under the concept of sovereignal freedom? Or did he intend some other purpose, meaning and destiny for mankind? It is our contention that God indeed had some other purpose, meaning and destiny for mankind and for himself. We believe that the transcendent God allowed mankind to consciously experience the full futility of “freedom” as domination and submission. We believe that God then entered this world by way of incarnation as Jesus Christ. In one Person he was “truly God” and “truly man.” He was truly dominant, and he was truly submissive. He embodied the law-giving God and the law-submissive creature. In his life on earth, he exhibited the attributes of domination through his miracle-working power. He also exhibited the attributes of servanthood in his obedience “unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). In his own Person he embodied the entire intuitive, instinctual legal system. He was the Torah — the Law, the teaching — incarnate. But his purpose was not to perpetuate that Law, that teaching, that system. Rather, his purpose was to himself fully recapitulate that hierarchical or vertical system and then to terminate that administration and its concept of sovereignal freedom.
In his agonizing but triumphal cry on Calvary, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), Jesus indeed did put that old order to death. Calvary was the death of God as a transcendent, dominating manifestation who impersonally ruled in sovereignal freedom by law. Calvary was the death of man as a subordinate animal-object who was submissive and dependent under law. Calvary was the death of law as an impersonal system for governing the universe. Moreover, Calvary was the death of that ultimate submission — death itself. That which man could not do in his creaturely state, God himself effected. Calvary was the deliverance of the universe and of mankind from the tyranny of sovereignal freedom.
The True Freedom of Human Selfhood
In the resurrection Christ came forth from the tomb — not as dominant God nor as submissive mankind — but as the transformed Creation of human selfhood. The resurrected Christ is the definition of a new, hitherto unknown freedom. In the resurrection this new Adamic reality of selfhood is free to be relationally “human.” Human selfhood does not bow to transcendence. It cannot be domesticated or dominated by law. It is free to love without hate, to hope without fear, to believe without doubt, to relate without estrangement, to create without destruction, and to live without death. Free human selfhood — not law — is destined to administer the universe.
Upon his resurrection Christ bestowed anticipatory human selfhood on all mankind as a gift. The gift of selfhood is not purchased. It is not fought for. It is not fled to. It is not imposed. It is not even taught. Such efforts would contradict the very nature of true human freedom. But selfhood can be learned. It can be decided for. It can be demonstrated and exemplified. Because of anticipatory selfhood a measure of true human freedom has been witnessed on earth — human freedom for children, for women, for outcasts,8 for those in bondage, for the poor and the deprived. Much more is yet to be accomplished as selfhood responds by going forth to all mankind in faith, hope and self-giving love — the “I” to the “thou.”9
However, full human selfhood involves the conscious distinction of the self from the old legal order with its sovereignal freedom. It involves the free decision of mankind for the same transformative change from sovereignal freedom to human freedom that took place in the resurrected Christ. This exercise of decisional freedom testifies that all Creation is soon to pass from the administration of impersonal law to the administration of personal human selfhood. As the transcendent relational Human Self,10 the Risen Christ not only initiated a transformative “self-consciousness [selfhood] that apparently did not . . . exist [previously] . . . ” (cf. John 15:15).11 His continued presence with humanity promises an imminent transformation associated with the relational gift of faith, hope and self-giving love (Matthew 28:20; Revelation 3:20). He will deliver us from bodies destined to die, from a consciousness linked to dominating transcendence, from natures bound to dominate or submit, and from an entropic12 environment destined to extinction. He will transform13 us — those who live and who once lived — to true, creative, relational, embodied human selfhood for eternity (1 Corinthians 15:51-54).
The light of the resurrection and the light of faith illuminate the darkness of a world beset by the primordial animality of sovereignal freedom. Let us now awaken from the sleep of death to the consciousness of eternal freedom with the Risen One. Let the cry of true freedom now resound around the world to all peoples, tongues and nations. Christ is eternally and humanly free. He has promised to transform us and grant us that same full freedom. In the demonstration of faith and love, let us now claim that freedom. And in the demonstration of hope, let us anticipate the imminent disclosure of that full freedom to us and with us forever. “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:33).
- John 8:33. Biblical quotations in this article are from the Revised Standard Version. (go back)
- See G. Tanzella-Nitti, Questions in Science and Religious Belief: The Roles of Faith and Science in Answering the Cosmological Problem (Tucson, AZ: Pachart Publishing House, 1992). (go back)
- For all creatures to be under the administration of law means that all creatures — including mankind — are under an instinctual, intuitive, “self-evident” order (see Galatians 4:1-6). In such an order everything/everyone does “what comes naturally.” For example, we naturally assume that entities develop relationality rather than relationality developing entities (material objects and substances). However, as now disclosed by science, the nature of the universe itself is profoundly counter-intuitive. Scientific understanding now recognizes that relationality develops entities rather than entities developing relationality. The ground of all reality in the universe is causal relationality — not causal entities. Likewise, in the resurrection/Parousia (Second Coming) the animal nature of mankind, which is intuitive, instinctual and “self-evident,” will be transformed into a human reality now regarded as counter-intuitive. Selfhood, which is fundamentally relational, then will be fully disclosed as human entities (persons). (go back)
- See Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1976). (go back)
- See Karl W. Luckert, Egyptian Light and Hebrew Fire: Theological and Philosophical Roots of Christendom in Evolutionary Perspective (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1991). (go back)
- Orlando Patterson, Freedom: Freedom in the Making of Western Culture (New York: Basic Books [division of Harper-Collins Publishers], 1991), quoted in Larry Martz, “The Three Faces of Freedom,” Newsweek, 13 January 1992, p. 60. (go back)
- lbid. (go back)
- Paradoxically, the modern consciousness of true human freedom was born, like the Christ-child, in an era of brutal totalitarianism — in the cells, yards and ovens of Auschwitz-Treblinka. (go back)
- There is no solitary, isolated self in the universe. Selfhood only exists in an existential world that includes the “I” and the “thou” — the “other.” Thus, I am an “I” only with respect to “you” — the “other.” See Martin Buber, I and Thou (1923). Martin Buber, I and Thou, tr. S. G. Smith and Walter Kaufman, is available from Barnes & Noble at www.barnesandnoble.com/w/i-and-thou-martin-buber/1116688326. (go back)
- The early church father St. Basil of Caesarea (300?-379?) declared, “Christ is . . . the model of what it means to be human, the mirror in which I see reflected my own true face, and the incarnation . . . is at the same time the ‘birthday’ of the human race.” (go back)
- See T. J. J. Altizer, “Replies: The Self-Realization of Death,” chap. 6, in R. P. Scharlemann, ed., Theology at the End of the Century (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1990), p. 131: “Now nothing is more important in that history than the historical advent of self-consciousness, a self-consciousness that apparently did not actually or fully exist until the advent of Christianity.” (go back)
- The observable universe is moving thermodynamically from greater to lesser energy, from greater to lesser order, from lesser to greater disorder. Therefore, we say that the universe is “entropic.” (go back)
- See John Polkinghorne, Reason and Reality: The Relationship between Science and Theology (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1991), p. 103. (go back)
This article was originally published March 1992 under the Quest imprint.
Last Revised September 2011