Freedom and Responsibility

by Jack Exum

Picture in your mind the soldier at Valley Forge, as he holds his musket in his bloody hands. He stands barefoot in the snow, starved from lack of food; wounded from months of battle and emotionally scarred from the eternity away from his family. He is surrounded by nothing but death and the carnage of war.

He stands tough, with fire in his eyes and victory in his heart. He looks at us across the centuries in anger and disgust and tells us: “I gave you my birthright of freedom born in the Constitution and now your children graduate too illiterate to read it.

“I fought in the snow barefoot to give you freedom to vote, and you stay at home because it rains. I left my family destitute to give you freedom of speech, and you remain silent on critical issues, because it might be bad for business. You ‘badmouth’ the country because you are irritated by something the politicians do. I orphaned my children to give you a government to serve you, and you are apathetic when democracy is stolen from the people.

“It’s the soldier, not the reporter, that gives you freedom of the press. It’s the soldier, not the poet, that gives you freedom of speech. It’s the soldier, not the campus organizer, who allows you to demonstrate. It’s the soldier who salutes the flag, serves the flag, whose coffin is draped with the flag, that allows the protester to burn the flag. Shame! Shame!”

“Lord, hold our troops in Your loving hands. Protect them as they protect us. Bless them and their families for the selfless acts of heroism they perform for us in our time of need. Press close to them the hope of just coming home safe.”

In reading these words, so ably penned in a church bulletin, I thought just how tough it is to be born in freedom. It would be so much easier to have a king or monarch, with unlimited powers, just tell us all how to live. Life would go boringly on each day under the heavy-heeled boot of a Hitler, or seeing the terrible face of an all-powerful Stalin. Such government offers little, but exacts much. All the rules would be posted and all the laws would be mandatory. Just keep your nose clean. Get up in the morning, keep a deadpan face, and just do your job as anonymously as possible. Perhaps no one will suspect you of any sin against the state. Perhaps soon you can even have two loaves of bread.

The State would be your god, and personal freedom to own anything, much less real estate, would be banned, for the state would own it all. Large walls would be built to be sure that none escape the privilege of living without freedom. Guards would be ready to shoot on sight those who try to climb the walls or slide through rolls of barbed wire.

Freedom is not free. The slogan is simple. “You may differ but you can’t divide.” Freedom is responsibility. There is no other definition that correctly displays the real meaning of being free.

The Apostle Paul writes, “Christ has set us free. This means we are really free.... My friends, you were chosen to be free. So don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do anything you want, Use it as an opportunity to serve each other with love” (Gal. 5:1,13 cev).

You want to protest. So protest. But don’t condemn the country that gives you the freedom to protest. You differ from the present administration? No problem. Just don’t move in a march and fly your banners that dirty their character and damn their motives and assassinate their integrity. Try trading places with members of Congress for a week. Carry the burden they shoulder and the heavy decisions they face. Sit in the president’s chair for a day, and weep silently and alone under the decisions you face. Freedom is not free. It is responsibility—and those who deny their personal obligations only lead us back into the slavery of the past.

As Americans, we all cherish the Bill of Rights, but tell me, as an American, who has the right to spit upon our flag or burn it while chanting “We want freedom!” “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed of one another” (Galatians 5:15).

When Paul wrote these words, he was living under a bloody despot, Nero, the caesar who had become the Roman god. Paul flew no banner but Christ. He led no protest march nor did he coin dirty names for the Roman Forum. Paul could have well said, “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage. Minds innocent and free take that for a hermitage” (Richard Lovelace).              

Freedom: what a wonderful word. But it must be cherished. It must be protected.

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