We tend to think of freedom as freedom from something: financial freedom from those bills in the mailbox, emotional freedom from those people who annoy me, physical freedom from forces that enslave, oppress and destroy.
This is important and true, but is it possible that true freedom is also for something? That if we miss this something, we might find ourselves debt-free, isolated, independent—and unexpectedly enslaved to ourselves? Indeed, true freedom is framed in the biblical vision as much by what it is for as what it is from—and the gospel reveals that our deepest underlying enslavement is to ourselves.
That’s why I’m so glad Rick McKinley has written The Answer To Our Cry, a book that lifts up the true freedom God invites us into. Here’s a few reflections on some of my favorite aspects of the book.
What is Freedom?
In the opening chapter, Rick complicates our contemporary understanding of freedom. For example, in the exodus story Pharaoh appears to be free by our standard definitions . . . but appearances can be deceiving:
Pharaoh is free. Technically. The Israelites are his slaves, and he is their master. That makes him free, right? But if you read the story, you quickly realize that while Pharaoh may have the freedom to make decisions, he is far from free. He is afraid he may lose control over his slaves, which drives him into the stress and anxiety of figuring out how to keep them under control as his servants. (p.23)
While Pharaoh enjoys freedom externally, he is enslaved internally–precisely because the freedom his power grants him is not oriented towards a God-centered vision for the world.
I couldn’t help but wonder how often we as Americans embody the image of Pharaoh today: externally wealthy, powerful and free, but internally anxious, stressed and enslaved. Just yesterday, I was reading research from Dartmouth correlating the drastic rise in mental illness and suicide in the US with the increasing breakdown of relational connection and loss of “openness to the transcendent,” even as material wealth and personal independence have grown.
If Pharaoh’s vision of freedom is off, then what vision of freedom are we created for?
The Father, Son and Spirit
Don’t let the word “Trinity” scare you. As Tim Keller observes in his endorsement, “This is great practical theology,” and indeed, Rick meets us where we’re at with a robust Trinitarian vision that’s profound yet easy to read. Rick presents the Father, Son and Spirit as the God in whom true freedom is found.
The Father, Son and Spirit are an eternal communion of love, in whom relationship and self-giving exist from eternity. They seek not their own glory, but the glory of the other. The Father seeks to glorify the Son, the Son the Father, the Spirit them both.
There is not another God “behind” this God; this is our Creator: a holy communion of self-giving love.
The Father, Son and Spirit reframe our understanding of freedom: true freedom is for relationship. Not independence from others, but mutual self-giving with others. Ultimately, we are created for relationship with God, whose holy love sets us free from self-centered striving and protective isolation, to receive our identity as beloved sons and daughters of God.
God’s presence is transformative: it meets us where we’re at, but it doesn’t leave us where we’re at. As Rick observes,
This love draws us in, and as we’re drawn in, we realize, “Man, there’s a whole bunch of things in my life that aren’t compatible with this love.” Like unforgiveness in my heart toward others. Like the hurt I cause people. Like the things I run to for life, when they really just give me death. (p.57)
In other words, God’s love bleeds over into the fullness of our lives, it frees us for others, setting us free from ourselves to, in the words of the book’s tagline, “live fully, love boldly and fear nothing.”
Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this book is how Rick brings these truths home to where we live.
Where We Live
Rick gets vulnerable in this book, sharing stories from his family and our church community at Imago Dei where he has encountered freedom. In true Rick fashion, he doesn’t present himself as the hero of the story but as one who is learning what true freedom means from others.
For example, in what was for me one of the most powerful chapters, Rick shares the challenges his daughter faces with a disability, and his own personal wrestling with God over her struggle. And yet, God has mentored Rick through her, teaching him what it means to be fully alive:
Kaylee assumes we are all here to be loved forever . . . Her greatest ability is her desire to be loved . . . What if being fully alive doesn’t depend on our becoming something spectacular or achieving something great? What if it starts with being loved? What if it ends with being loved? . . . What Kaylee longs for more than anything is the very thing we were all made for. She’s just more honest about it.
The Father, Son and Spirit invite us into freedom with them as beloved sons and daughters, not dependent upon our success, ability or accomplishments.
As we stop striving to impress God and others, and receive God’s overwhelming affection for us, we become more authentic image-bearers who realize our performance was never the basis for our value to begin with. Indeed, it is “Sometimes the ones the world has no place for [who] are best equipped to show us what it is to live fully and to be truly loved.” (p.71)
Through other stories of family and friends, Rick guides us into how the self-giving love of God can make us a radically generous and grateful people, who boldly carry the sacrificial love of the Father, Son and Spirit into the cry of our world for a truer freedom.
Final note: I’m a theology nerd, I love reading books that 99% of folks find excruciatingly boring. One of the things I loved about this book was how it took Trinitarian and affective theology (for those familiar with the traditions) and applied it personally and pastorally in a way that is really practical and accessible.
And yes, in full disclosure, I work with Rick (you could say he’s my “boss”), but it would be more accurate to say he’s a mentor, guide and friend who has significantly shaped my life as we both look to Jesus as our true “boss.” 😉 And in this book you get some of the best of who he is.
So if you’re hungry for a truer vision of freedom, go get Rick’s book: it may very well be the answer to your cry.