The Independence Illusion

As I write, Americans are gearing up this week to celebrate their ‘Independence Day’. The fireworks, celebrations (and food consumption) will be tremendous, as will the undeniable sense of historic pride and accomplishment. The tadpole defeated the piranha!  The tiny colonies gained their freedom from mad King George and the monstrous British Empire!  These ideals of freedom and independence run deep in human consciousness, not only in nation states and ethnicities, but in individuals. Teenagers long to be free from the shackles of parental oversight; elderly adults chafe at their growing dependency as old age takes its toll.  Adam and Eve made a play for independence in the Garden, attempting to gain godlike status for themselves. What is it about freedom and independence that so compels us?  Are these really such positive ideals – or merely an illusion?

Peoples who fight for independence generally do so because of tyranny, oppression, and injustice.  For the American colonies, this was encapsulated by ‘taxation without representation’ – leading to the Boston Tea Party.  We can understand this pervasive human dilemma. But what of our individual desire to be independent of others, self-sufficient, captains of our own ship?  

In relation to God, independence really is just an illusion.  We simply weren’t made to be independent, nor was creation.  It’s impossible.  Everything is dependent on the One who sustains it all: ‘in him all things hold together’ (Col 1:17).  If we think of the earth as our home, it is also God’s gift.  Theologian Miroslav Volf writes, ‘Home is not a thing, it is relational – comprised of responsive relations. Gratitude is the most appropriate single and comprehensive response to the experience of home.’  Why?  Because our home is a gift of God’s goodness.  Do you sometimes wake up thinking, ‘thank you God for a new day! 

Thank you that I’m alive!’  More often we default to, ‘Who needs God? I’m in charge of my life, what’s God ever done for me anyhow?’  But God is not a tyrant enslaving us – rather he’s wholly Good, desiring an inter-dependent relationship with us and with all of creation.  Independence is not a biblical ideal – quite the opposite.  There’s a constant entreaty toward ‘dependence’ on God in all things, and mutual dependence with others: to honour parents, love our neighbours, strive for unity, care for creation, overcome differences, to forgive and be reconciled.  That is true freedom.  And home.

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