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"Hold On Loosely, But Don't Let Go"

One of the lessons appointed for Sunday is from Paul's letter to the Galatians. That letter has been called the "Magna Carta of Christian liberty."

While at one level Galatians deals with the question of whether or not Gentiles who convert to Christianity must first follow the requirements of Jewish law - circumcision and dietary restrictions - its broader lesson is in showing us where true human freedom is to be found.

Freedom: it ain't just for Andy Dufresne

Eugene Peterson starts his commentary on Galatians (Traveling Light ) by pointing out that we all carry around within us certain fantasies, or illusions of freedom, as compared to real freedom - actual experiences of living freely - which is God's freedom.

Human freedom is based on the fact that we are created in the image of God, and God is free. Therefore, our freedom is our deepest reality, and bondage or slavery is artificial - i.e., not our natural state.

Many things can place unhealthy limits on our freedom and make us slaves. The most obvious is economic (literal) slavery.

But there is also emotional, psychological, and spiritual slavery.

This emotional/psychological/spiritual slavery often takes the form of our over-attachment to, and then dependence on other people - our parents, a lover (real or imagined), our spouse, our children. Or it can take the form of over-attachment to, and then dependence upon, on things like food, work, "financial security," sex, physical or intellectual fitness, power, fame, popularity, and so on.

Here's what's important to remember: these things are good things - God-given things, even!

But they make terrible gods.

You may never have heard Galatians and 38-Special quoted on the same blog post, but here goes:  
When it comes to the good and even God-given people and things in our life, we need to "hold on loosely, but don't let go: if you cling too tightly, you're gonna lose control."  

As I will never grow tired of repeating, "There's a God-shaped hole inside of us that only God can fill."

Well, attempting to fill that God-shaped hole inside of us with anything other than God does two things: first, it de-thrones the Lord God from God's proper place at the center of our heart, mind, and soul.

Second, it places a false god on that throne.

And - lest you think this is all just theological musing without practical application - here's a fascinating consequence of this dynamic: because placing a false god into the God-shaped hole is forcing a square peg into a round hole, this very process causes pain and internal trauma, and so a common reaction is to turn to misusing alcohol, leisure, television, consumerism/shopping, or other things to anesthetize our pain. Or we turn to busy-ness, caffeine, nicotine, adventure, thrill-seeking/mountaintop experiences to or run over our internal pain. But as long as there is something other than the Lord God at the center of our life, the underlying cause of our pain/discomfort remains.

The good news is, we can remember, at any time, that the Lord God is the only god who loves us back.

The Lord God is a God of freedom, and desires our freedom.

Other small-g-gods tend to become tyrants, demanding more and more and more from us while giving back less and less and less.

(It's interesting that God also demands more and more and more from us, but because God is love, the dynamic in giving back to God is the same as it is in love - the more we give, the more we have to give, and the more we receive, and the freer we are.)  

Practically speaking, as Sunday's appointed lesson will point out, to the degree we live with something or someone other than God at our center, we don't live freely: symptoms are that we experience heaviness of spirit, dullness, a lifeless routine, spiritual and emotional constipation, dreariness. We find that we are clutching, craving, grabbing, holding onto people and life and life's gifts, and those gifts seem scarce, and nothing seems to satisfy us.

Conversely, to the degree we live with God at our center, we live freely: happy symptoms (Paul called them "fruit of the spirit") are that we experience lightness-of-being, crispness, spontaneity, joy, gaiety. We are more able to hold on loosely to people, life, and life's gifts, and those gifts seem to be abundant, and we feel satisfied.

Hold on loosely, but don't let go: It is for freedom that we are set free.


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