Lots of words come to mind when “freedom” is used.

Probably the most common associations with freedom are words that have to do with government.  Autonomy, emancipation, independence, laissez-faire, liberty, power, self-governed, and a host of “un” words such as unfettered are good examples.  People who live under the reign of despots such as Kim Jung Il of North Korea are not considered to have freedom. 

Sometimes freedom is simply used to mean the ability to choose whatever one desires.  Words like carte blanche, indulgence, prerogative, and privilege express this freedom.  Used this way, a child does not have carte blanche freedoms; her parents often make choices for her.  Or you could argue that a poor person does not have this freedom because the limitations of money control his life.

Thought life is often described with references to freedom.  A freelance journalist writes what she wants.  A free thinker can join a political protest or read a liberal journal.  Frequently tyrannical regimes are judged by the ways they control the thinking and expression of their people.

At other times freedom is just a catch all for “no one tells me what to do.”  A person who dresses without conformity, speaks his mind without concern for the consequences, or lives without concern for the conventions of society is described as a “free spirit.”  Words such as “live and let live,” scot free, and unfettered describe this kind of freedom.

The Bill of Rights is probably the most eloquent description of the rights that people living in the United States are accorded as free people.  Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

But “rights” have become the expectation of many with respect to almost every institution, experience, and desire.  “You have the right to breathe right,” a television commercial touts.  Freedom, in such cases, is associated with entitlement and indulgence.

Freedom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and it often causes huge side effects.  Take, for example, the person who wants the right to use illegal drugs and becomes addicted as a result.  The pock-marked face of a meth user is hardly the look of freedom.

The person who exercises his right to gamble without controls can end up losing house, career, marriage and a host of other things.  Not exactly what you would call freedom.  So also smoking cigarettes, telling off your boss, and driving while intoxicated.

Paul the apostle told the Galatians that the point of Jesus’ life was to set us free.  But he had a different idea about freedom than the average Westerner.  It was certainly not “carte blanche” living.  Paul knew that freedom without controls leads to all sorts of destructive living, both personally and socially.

With the 4th of July approaching, it is appropriate to think about what freedom means.  It does not mean “get what you want.”  It does mean “live with integrity and wonderful blessings will come back to you.”

Freedom doesn’t necessarily mean the absence of suffering.  Paradoxically, suffering can be very liberating.  We’ve all heard people say things like “After I got sick I learned the meaning of life.’  Or, “after I lost my home in the fire, I learned that stuff is really not as important as I thought.”

Now that’s freedom.