We're Obsessed with Freedom But We're Not Truly Free
A Tale of Two Pianists
I used to live in a homeless shelter.
While I was technically homeless, I lived there because it was my job as the overnight RA. There were a lot of great guys who lived there. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them and made many friends, but there were also some interesting characters.
One gentleman really enjoyed playing the piano. The problem was that no one else enjoyed his piano playing. Sometimes he would sit there and hit the same note intermittently for 10 minutes. Sometimes he would just randomly bang on the piano keys like my toddlers do.
Then one day he decided to treat the piano like it was a punching bag. He smacked the keys as hard as he could over and over again. It was awful.
One of the other residents had enough of it. He yelled “CUT IT OUT! You’re giving me a headache! Don’t play if you don’t know how!”
The pianist yelled back with just as much vigor “DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO! I like my music! You just don’t understand!”
He went right back to his piano beating.
Now I grew up playing the piano and a lot of my relatives are very musical.
I remember one Christmas break, my cousins and I were having fun replicating pop songs on the piano. One of my cousins was especially gifted at this. We would name a song and she would make her own beautiful arrangement of it on the spot. Sometimes she would stop playing and say “I think it would sound better in this key.” She would then continue crafting her arrangement in a different key.
Let me ask you a question.
Which pianist was free?
Two Types of Freedom
There are actually two types of freedom: Positive and Negative Freedom.
Negative Freedom is freedom from constraint. Positive Freedom is freedom for beauty, excellence, and goodness.
Our first pianist had negative freedom. He was free from all forms of constraint. He hit whatever keys he wanted to and didn’t let anyone get in his way. The problem is, he wasn't free to create anything beautiful.
Now my cousin also had negative freedom. She didn’t limit herself to the original notation of the song. She didn’t even limit which key she was playing in. No one would stop her from playing what she wanted the way she wanted to.
But she also had positive freedom. She had spent years learning music and how to play the piano. She had disciplined herself to master the basics of music theory and performance so that she was free to create her own music and improve others. She was free to be excellent. She was free to make beautiful music.
The pianist who is truly free is my cousin. She is free to play whatever she wants and she is also free to play excellently and beautifully.
We Need More Than Freedom From Constraint
I first learned about positive and negative truth from Abdu Murray in his new book Saving Truth.
After reading Murray's chapter on freedom (twice), I started thinking about how extremely relevant this is.
I would suggest that freedom is the highest virtue in American society. Everywhere we turn, people want freedom. But notice, what people usually want is actually negative freedom.
People want to be free from labels. People want to be free from government. People want to be free from social norms. People want to be free from their own bodies and biology.
Now I’m all for freedom, but we need to pursue freedom in its fullest sense.
Negative freedom is not enough.
Imagine if America’s founding fathers only cared about being free from Great Britain and made no plans for governing society after obtaining independence. They would get their freedom, but then anarchy would follow.
I’m thankful they had a vision for what came after obtaining freedom from Great Britain. They envisioned a nation that protected the inalienable human rights to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They had an ideal and pursued it to the best of their ability.
That’s what positive freedom is. It’s knowing what is good, beautiful, and excellent and then pursuing it with all of your might.
How Can We Be Truly Free?
This is something our society needs to understand. There is no such thing as freedom without truth.
How can we pursue something good if we don’t know what “goodness” is in the first place?
In order to create beauty, we need to know what beauty is.
We can’t achieve excellence unless we know what is excellent.
Truth precedes freedom.
In order to be truly free, we first need to know the truth.
Jesus understood this. In John 8:32 he said,
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The most important question now is, what is the truth?
We need to answer this question before we can be truly free.
What is the truth?
Well, according to Jesus, he is!
“I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” –John 14:6
If we cannot be free without the truth and Jesus is the truth, that means we need to know Jesus in order to be truly free.
According to Jesus, freedom in its fullest sense can only be found by knowing him.
I’m convinced that Jesus is the truth.