Written by Vicky Ng, Art by Phoebe Shen
When we visited China two years ago, we went to see the Yellow River. The spot we visited was called “the mouth of the kettle” implying that it was the starting point of the Yellow River, the place where small streams join together and pour down the hill as one. The roar of the running water could be heard from miles away. Rocks on both sides of the riverbank were drenched due to splashes from the running water, making them very slippery to walk on. Yet, thousands of tourists took the risk of walking on the slippery rocks just to have a look at the phenomenal scene. Many even brought umbrellas or wore ponchos to protect themselves from the splashes of water. It was indeed a scene to catch, yet with extreme caution. I wished so much that I had something to lean over as I nervously stepped onto the rocks to watch. We constantly questioned why a fence wasn’t built for our protection. For many, fences may seem annoying. They are like restrictions and boundaries that seem to violate our personal freedom. For example, just a few years ago, a few tourists ignored the warning sign posted at the end of a cliff at Yosemite National Park, which said “Danger, do not step over the fence”. Hoping to capture a better photo of the falls, the tourists stepped past the fence and lost their footing. Sadly, this decision cost them their lives.
For many people, truth seems mutually exclusive of freedom. For truth to exist, we would have to accept absolutes, and absolutes often seem to restrict us from what we want to have or do. Many fight for this freedom at a high cost. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to try sex at any age, freedom to abort their unborn child, freedom to use drugs and alcohol and weapons, freedom to do what they deem is right. We live in a generation that stresses pluralism or a diversity of views and beliefs. To uphold pluralism, we have to develop tolerance. We believe that if we allow everyone to do what they want to do, we could co-exist. Under the idealism of such kind of coexist-ism, truth and absolutes are a threat; they can’t guarantee us personal freedom.
Could such coexist-ism function in a society made up of many individuals of different ethnicities, colors, traditions, beliefs and the like? Our society seems to think that as long as they agree with one thing, i.e. they agree to disagree, it could be done. And the price of upholding this kind of freedom is huge, we trade our value system for something not defined but constantly changing depending on the voice that is the loudest.
Jesus said, “And you will know the truth and truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Jesus promised that truth and freedom come hand in hand. How could that be? Maybe we should go back to the Garden of Eden where the first human beings lived. There, Adam and Eve were free to eat from all the trees that were ever created. The only fruit they were banned from eating was the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The regulation was very clear: if you eat from that tree, you will certainly die (see Genesis 2:16-17). We know the result: the first man and woman were tempted by Satan and they ate the fruit, becoming instantly separated spiritually from God, and eventually subject to physical death as well. One may ask why did God even make that tree? Why did He establish a regulation like that? Why couldn’t He give humans complete freedom? For us, that tree meant evil, something put there to tempt us and to trip us up.
Many saw the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as toxic, so that when humans ate it, they lost their spirituality and were reduced to something less. But God’s intention for putting the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden was love. He wanted humans to gain the ability to distinguish between good and evil by obeying His standard. What He called good was permissible; what He banned was not allowed. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil served as a tool for teaching humans to see God’s words as the absolute truth. Nothing about that tree was inherently evil. Like the fence that protects us from falling, God’s Words and commands are the absolute truth that draw a clear boundary line for us. If we operate by that truth, we experience true freedom. If we step over the limit, we experience troubles and death.
Maybe we can try to understand how God’s absolute truth brings true freedom from a different view. Say God has given us a similar regulation, “You are free to eat from all the trees in the garden, but there is one you cannot eat, for if you eat it, you will certainly die.” Would you appreciate this warning? Wouldn’t you want to know to which tree He was referring to? But say He refuses tell us which specific tree it is, and we just have to find out for ourselves. How could we enjoy eating with the worry that one of these trees may lead to death? Having said that, aren’t you grateful for the clear regulation He gave Adam and Eve? Do you see the large boundary lines of freedom they were given (being able to eat from all the trees except for one)? Aren’t you grateful for God’s grace that He clearly points out the road of destruction without us going through any pointless confusion and exploring?
Freedom is not absolute; truth is. It is only within this black-and-white, clearly-spelled-out truth that true freedom can be enjoyed. Jesus never came to promise physical freedom, financial freedom and political freedom. Because for humans to enjoy all these kinds of freedom, we have to have one kind of freedom first, that is spiritual freedom, freedom from the bondage of sin. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). How can we receive this freedom? By knowing the truth. And how can we know the truth? By obeying His commands. It’s not by quoting the Bible, or attending church, or serving Him, but by agreeing with His commands, and doing what He says. Are you willing to live in the safety net of His Words and experience the kind of freedom that was originally designed for us to enjoy back in the Garden of Eden?
Written by Vicky Ng, Art by Phoebe Shen