Whatever your experience with Christianity, it can all seem pretty constricting. Christians seem like regular enough people until you encounter some behaviour they won't take part in. Maybe they don't drink or take drugs or sleep around, maybe it's smaller and they just don't say certain words or buy certain things. Certainly from the outside looking in it can all seem like some detailed system of good behaviour, a web of sub-necessary morals.
And if this is the case, why are so many people choosing to align with Jesus and call themselves Christians? If the heart of Christianity is a strict set of ethical choices it is surely only for Donny Do-Good or No-Life Nancy?
Don't Christians realise that some of us want to take life in two hands and live it? Some of us aren't content to sit in wooden pews and recite old words and just let experiences pass us by?
But you only have to meet a few of the 2.4 billion Christians on the planet to realise that they have a similar thirst and passion for life too. And you only need to engage with the very basics of what Jesus did and taught to realise that he did not initiate a moral system, but came with a serious message about who we are at our core, the centrality of love, and the way to true freedom and fullness of life.
How can that be? Freedom and restrictions don't go together. Whoever heard of becoming liberated by having more limits on your life?
And that's a fair question. But if you're currently alive in the Western World, the odds are that you have a specific idea of 'freedom' that doesn't really make sense. The images that come to mind when you hear the word 'free' are probably some variation of a bird being released from a cage, or a person leaving a prison. You are free to go, free as a bird. No longer will those bars encase you, you are not limited; you are free.
Now if you think that freedom involves the removal of oppressive constraints, you'd be right. But if you think it is the removal of all constraints you'd be overstating the point. A bird doesn't belong in a cage, it was made to fly, but when it is released it doesn't suddenly become free to be whatever it wants. A bird is free when it is most like a bird, when it has no constraints that stop it from flying, singing, making nests, and whatever else coheres with its nature. The bird is not oppressed because it cannot choose to be a lizard, but in its 'birdness' it is fully free.
The same is true of human freedom. Almost no one wants to live in a society where there are no lawsâthat would be anarchy. But it is the very presence of laws that afford us the freedom to work a job without fear of exploitation, or have surgery with confidence of safe practice, or even walk the street at night with some assurance you won't be murdered for no reason.
Of course, these terrible things do happen, but that says more about the human condition than anything else. The principle stands that the presence of the right limits enable true freedom for living and human flourishing.
Commonly people balk at the Christian belief that sex should be enjoyed within marriage and not outside. It is such an outdated and prudish concept, how can anyone in the 21<sup>st Century take that teaching or belief system seriously?
And yet, with such a 'restriction' in place we would actually find ourselves in a society that did not bear the scars of adultery, prostitution, pornography, STDs, unwanted teen pregnancies, child sexual abuse, and the vast majority of cases of rape. Not to mention the benefits to married couples and families.
Of course not all sexual experiences outside of marriage contribute to these problems, yet the simple point can be seen that such a restriction can in fact have great positive benefits for the experience of many and the good of society.
The liberty of true freedom
Yet even this is still not quite the point. Jesus did not come to give restrictive rules, but he also didn't come to give very good rules that make some sense when you sit and think about them for a while. The heart of it all is that Jesus came to reveal God to us, to show the world both the severe danger of ignoring God, and the freedom in His good parameters for life.
Christians, it turns out, are not people who enjoy being especially moral. But they are people who know that for all their intelligence and finesse, their pursuit of a freedom-from-all-restraints has left them without some of the things that make them most human, and has restricted them in new and unexpected ways.
Christians are people who know that they need God's forgiveness for all their attempts at makeshift freedom, and who then choose to walk in the goodness and liberty of our humanness in the way God has designed it.
Sam Manchester is currently a theology student with an inescapable sociology degree behind him. In an attempt to reconcile the two, he reflects and writes about their coalescence in everyday life.
Sam's archive of articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sam-manchester.html