On True Freedom: Thoughts on the Virginia Tech Tragedy

God endowed mankind with freedom even though He knew that mankind would use that freedom to estrange itself from Him, even though He knew that the Jews and the Roman authorities would gather together to afflict, crucify and kill His Only-Begotten Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  God gave us freedom to choose Him on our own, even though He knew mankind would so often choose to move far away from Him.  Freedom was endowed upon us and in us, because somehow it reflects something that is in God Himself.  Our freedom reflects a divine attribute and it is part of what makes us to be created in the image and likeness of God.  We can spend a lifetime contemplating the knowledge that God gave us freedom foreseeing that we would use it against Him.  We can spend another lifetime contemplating the mystery that God Himself paid the price for endowing us with freedom.  He paid it with the blood of His own Son born in the flesh and crucified upon the Cross.  Is it a wonder then, that in the "Land of the Free" we encounter the same destructive choices that mankind has made from the beginning of its creation.  Adam and Eve used their freedom to disobey God.  Cain used his freedom to kill his brother Abel.  The nation of Israel used its freedom to make itself a graven image, an idol, in the desert.  Herod used his freedom to slay innocent babies and children in order to hunt down and kill the baby Jesus.  The Jews and the Romans used their freedom to destroy the Son of God born in the flesh.  So many of the Roman Emperors used their freedom to persecute and kill the Christians.  And so on throughout the history of mankind.  Is it a wonder then, in a country whose founding principles include that of freedom for all mankind, that it should be, and its citizens should be, the victims of mankind's terrible use of its freedom to choose either the bad or the good?  In the events of the Virginia Tech massacre, we see the price of freedom.  It was once and for all time the blood of God, it has been the blood of the martyrs, and more recently it is the blood of college kids and professors, who were the victims of an enslaved heart, mind and soul.  But herein lies the mystery:  God knew what Cho Seung-Hui would do, and He allowed him the freedom to choose to do it.  Does that make our God a cruel God?  To the contrary, a tragedy of this nature reveals the immeasurable love of God, Who despite this killer's grievous use of freedom, gave him life, loved him, and died for him.  God does not take away our freedom to choose because we make bad choices or because we sin horribly.  Rather, He continues to grant us the power to come to Him by our own choice rather than by coercion.  He continues to endow us with freedom.God will take away no one's freedom to choose Him as a result of this tragedy.  While the various political parties and lobbyists vie for the upper hand in advancing their agendas as a result of this tragedy, and while we hope and pray for a peaceful church, society, nation and world at every Orthodox service, we Orthodox Christians must see and understand the difference between the freedoms that most of us talk about and the freedom that God Himself has given us.  The freedom that God has given us is the freedom to choose Christ, to choose the path of light, to choose salvation over damnation, to choose light over darkness, to choose good over evil.  The freedom that God has given us is to choose words that are godly, not simply to say anything we want.  The freedom that God has given us is to choose to love our enemies, not slaughter them and war against them.  The freedom God has given us is to pray for those who hate us, not use another's hatred as a pretense for our own.  God did not give us freedom to choose our own morality.  He gave us the freedom to choose to follow and obey His commandments.Freedom and freedoms are not given by mankind.  Freedom is not a right.  Freedom is a divine gift.  It is what makes us most human.  But freedom only makes us human to the extent we use it according to the teachings and precepts of God.  We see in the actions of Cho Seung-Hui what happens when we choose to use the freedom God has given us in a most destructive and horrifying way.  We become INHUMAN.  We are only truly free, only truly human, when we choose God and the path of His salvation.  The popular culture in America tells us that we are free only when we can do anything we want.  Adam and Eve found out, and so did we as a result, that when we choose something other than God, when we choose something other than His commandments, that we become slaves.  Adam and Eve and all mankind became enslaved to death as a result of their free choice.  Make no mistake, dearly beloved, the Orthodox Christian "take" on freedom is not the same as the popular culture's "take" on freedom. What we hear mostly in this day and age from young and old alike, from pastors and political pundits is "This is a free country right?  I can, therefore, say and do whatever I want because that is my RIGHT."  We Orthodox Christians should answer, it is certainly not your right to say and do whatever you want, because it is not America that has made you free, it is God Himself.  God has created us with freedom instilled in us, given to us as a gift.  We have not been made free by any human authority; not by our Declaration of Independence, not by the Preamble to the Constitution, not by the Bill of Rights, not by the Constitution itself.  All of these documents recognize according to our Founding Fathers that it is God Himself who has made us this way.  Our country's Founding Fathers tried to express this in the most lofty and inspiring terms, and many men and women have died fighting because they believed what all these documents simply recognized.  We Christians would argue that freedom is not a right, but a gift.God created us free.  He made us this way knowing we would crucify His Son and knowing that the shooting and killing at Virginia Tech would take place.  If we are truly to remain the Land of the Free, it must be we Christians who are brave enough to help our country remember what true freedom is and how great a people can be when they freely choose the path of Christ.  If this country of ours is to remain free and if its citizens desire to remain free, truly free, then each of us must use our freedom to choose Christ and His path of salvation.  All other paths lead this country and its people toward destruction, not toward God but away and far away from Him.  We Christians instead of talking all the time about political freedoms, must turn the minds and hearts of our country's people toward the freedom given us by God.  Instead of engaging our country on the level of its political debates about freedoms, we must engage it on the level of humanity's freedom in Christ.  Otherwise our free country will continue to be enslaved to its own reasoning and spiral downwards into darkness, away from the light of Christ.This was no more clearly evident than in the TV networks' insistence on running the disturbing images of Cho's video over and over again on their news programs.  In order to stop that downward spiral into darkness a parent of one of the slain college children spoke out saying, "I want to issue a direct personal plea, to all the major media:  For the love of God and our children, stop broadcasting those images and those words.  Choose to focus on life and the love and the light that our children brought into the world and not on the darkness and the madness and the death."  The operative word in this father's plea was "Choose".  It is the freedom to choose.  Whether this father knew it or not, I believe that from his mouth came some of the most profound words in human history.  Some in the United States would argue that what he asked for was the restriction of free speech.  But this father's plea came from a more basic and deeper reality, one which makes us truly free, truly human, and one which brings us out of darkness and into the light.  This father, whether he knew it or not, was asking the TV networks to let the light of Christ shine in their use of freedom.  The result of his plea, really it was a prayer, and God heard it, was not the restriction of speech, but its freedom in Christ. As each of us considers and many continue to be impacted by the tragic events which occurred on the Virginia Tech campus, let us remember that we were created by God with freedom.  That freedom was purchased with His own blood in the crucifixion of His own Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Yes we do live in the "Land of the Free", but true freedom is not the ability to do and say anything we want.  We are truly free when we choose Christ and to follow His commandments.  God did not make us robots, implanted with a program to control our behavior.  Rather, He made us reason-endowed creatures, capable of thinking and expressing ourselves, capable of choosing, or not choosing, Him.  He made us this way so that we would have the opportunity, the blessing, of a full life in Christ, a full life that was freely chosen by us.  That makes us truly free, when we can even choose not to follow God.  No human authority, no document has made us this way.  God has created us this way.  It is what makes us most human.  It is part of being made in God's image and likeness.  For the sake of our country, its people, the world, and our own salvation, we need to exercise our freedom in such a way that shows us to be truly human, to be truly free in Christ.

- Fr. Stephen Loposky

 


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