My youngest son, Luke, and I had lunch today with a wise sage of the faith, George Bebawi, and his equally wise wife, May. Since Luke is going into high school this coming August, I asked George if he had any counsel that might help Luke prepare for this new season of life. George, who taught at Cambridge, St. John’s College in Nottingham, England, and Selly Oak College in Birmingham, England (just to name a few), did, in fact, have some counsel to give Luke. His counsel wasn’t academic, even though he is quite the academician. His counsel wasn’t necessarily theological, although he could spar with any of the theological greats. George’s counsel was fatherly, or, perhaps I should say, “grand-fatherly.”
George told stories of his own childhood, and although many years have passed, and there are obvious cultural differences, the principles of truth, upon which these stories were told, apply in our culture and time as well. George spoke to my son as a loving, discerning grandfather speaks to his grandchildren.
Of the many lessons we learned at George and May’s dining room table, one stood out above all the rest. George said, “In America, people are taught that freedom comes when we follow our heart’s desire. But if there is nothing to guide our heart’s desire, then we have no path to freedom; we only have a slope to slavery.” We think we are free if we get to do what we choose, but that which we choose determines the state of our freedom.
I believe God creates us with the ability to choose. Will I follow God or not? Will I be kind or not? Will I give in to this temptation or not? The fact that I have a choice does not make me free. The commitment to choose wisely determines if I remain free or if I enter the slope to slavery. As George said, “The ability to say ‘no’ is an exercise of one’s freedom which is a defining characteristic of being human. The yielding to immediate gratification simply makes us monkeys.”
In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter (who knew a thing or two about bad choices—cf. Mark 14:66-72), writes this, “For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19b).
To Luke, my youngest son: You are free to choose, as am I. That is part of what it means to be human. But as you exercise your freedom, stay on the path God has for you, for only then will you ultimately remain free. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor and theologian who was martyred for his faith by the Nazis in April, 1945, once wrote:
If you set out to seek freedom, then learn above all things to govern your soul and your senses, for fear and longings may lead you away from the path you should follow. Chaste be your mind and your body, and both in subjection, obediently, steadfastly seeking the aim set before them; only through discipline may a man learn to be free.”
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). The path of freedom or the slope of slavery? “You were called to freedom” (Galatians 5:13), but the choice is yours. I encourage you to choose wisely.