bruce_woodOver the past two weeks the airwaves have been ablaze with news coming from the Middle East and Africa. Nations like Tunisia, the Ivory Coast, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon erupted almost overnight to chaos in the streets. Time after time in nation after nation we saw pictures of people who stood with signs, who shouted at the top of their lungs, who even went so far as to light themselves on fire. What could cause so many people in so many countries to revolt like this? What could drive people to risk their own lives as well as the lives of their families and communities in order to stand in a town square and spend the day shouting at a government building?

Some have said it was Facebook.

Others have blamed it on Twitter.

Still others have pointed a finger at the Western media outlets.

Some have theorized it is the machinations of groups hell-bent on domination of the Middle-East.

But the message from the (peaceful anyway) protesters is clear, and they want only one thing:

Freedom.

As Americans we can feel most strongly the impetus within others to seek freedoms such as the right to voice ones opinions without fear of retribution, the right to worship in any way they see fit and have it protected, and the right to the opportunity to advance oneself economically and provide for one’s own family. In our own nation we enshrined this basic understanding of the human condition in our founding document. We made it the law of the land, protected and treated as sacred.

But this deep human need to be free was well-established long before we were Americans. Even the founders of this great nation accepted that the need we have to be free was built into each of us, “endowed by our creator” as it were. Deep down we know that it is wrong to oppress. We know it is wrong to hold people back. We know that it is wrong to deny people those freedoms we enjoy ourselves. In depriving others of freedom we make the grave mistake of valuing ourselves more highly than we should.

Refusing to allow people to be free to meet their God-given potential is one of the foulest crimes we can commit against one another. It says to other people that they are less human than we are. It says that somehow we value ourselves more than we do others. It is living a lie that says that somehow we are more important than others. That is what the leadership in these countries have said to the people living in their lands. They have decided that their people are nothing more than cattle. Less human, and thus less deserving of the ability to determine their own destinies.

Paul, an Apostle of Jesus, responded to this idea of freedom and it is no mistake that it is tied to the way that we treat others. He said, You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:13-15 NIV)

We are all called to this command to love one another, but we are all also bound by the second half of this statement, the punishment for those who do not love their neighbors or who try to deprive people of freedom. In the end, those who try to oppress are destroyed. This is not just a spiritual reality, it is a physical reality. I often find that to be negative, to carry hate is to work so hard that you will eventually tire out and become irrelevant. Hate only brings irrelevancy, freedom and love bring purpose and a true sense of a burden lifted.

Remember this as you discuss these days with your loved ones. Remember this as you discuss this with your intellectual opponents. We are called to be free. Not just to be free through the free gift of Grace given freely through Jesus – but beyond that to fight for the freedom of others. This is a fight that will not be won in the shedding of blood. It is only a fight that will be truly won through love, compassion, understanding and crying out with one voice – globally – that we will no longer stand for dehumanization, no longer will we stand for violence as a means to any end, and that the spirit within us crying out to be free should always be respected and that we should always hold sacred the right of each human soul to make choices, regardless of what they are, and be defended in their ability to make them.

Let’s turn our hearts today…for freedom!