True Freedom and Music

Rather than a license to do whatever is pleasing in the moment, true freedom always comes along with a qualifier; if you are free, you are always free to do something.

Our students have a special privilege being able to sing in a choir. Moreover, I believe our students are formed in a unique way through music regarding the freedom they have as Christians. When we hear the word “freedom,” what naturally comes to mind (at least to mine) is usually the liberties and rights we have as American citizens, or perhaps that cliched childhood desire to “do whatever I want.” While “freedom” may be popularly used this way, the reality of the word is quite different when spoken in the light of Scripture. Though, there does exist a more appropriate word for “doing whatever I want”: autonomy.

Autonomy is an unbridled will—a will that only serves the willer. As Christians, we see the dangers of this false freedom quite immediately. Autonomy is letting your untrained dog into the backyard without a leash or a fence. It’s letting a child eat or read whatever he fancies. It’s letting the dishes go unwashed simply because we can leave them and don’t want to wash them. As is apparent, autonomy leads to evil because of sin; it can lead to physical and spiritual harm, selfishness, laziness, and pride, among other things.

True freedom is not autonomy. Rather than a license to do whatever is pleasing in the moment, true freedom always comes along with a qualifier; if you are free, you are always free to do something. Because of the reality of Christian vocation, what we are free to do is usually apparent. Most generally, we are free from sin through Christ and free to serve God and our neighbor. So, true freedom would be doing the dishes because you can serve that way. A child would be freer if he were given boundaries in eating or in reading, for his own health and safety. The untrained mutt is freer if he has a fence protecting him from running off into danger. You might picture the free feeling that dog would have, knowing he has nothing to fear within his master’s fence. The same is true at the human level, regarding God’s Law; we have that kind of freedom, knowing that living in God’s Law as new creations, we can joyfully eat from any tree in the garden of his good Word.

Of course, human nature likes to frame true freedom as a bad thing—an inhibition from the best possible life. Human nature needs to be trained to believe that true freedom is a joy and really does feel freeing. I’ve found in my own experience that there exists an extremely effective way to train the emotions to find joy in true freedom: choral music. If you have ever sung in a choir, sung with a group of people (even sung “Happy Birthday” together), and tried to harmonize with each other without using preplanned music, you will know how it feels to be left to your own devices trying to make something beautiful. It feels claustrophobic, without direction, almost impossible. Yes, everyone can sing what they want, but that’s autonomy, not freedom.

On the other hand, if you have sung in a choir using music (being free to follow the music, if you will), or sung harmony you know by heart, you will know how freeing and joyful it is to know you are singing the song the right way—and it sounds beautiful! I believe that by having our students sing in choir together, we can give them a lovely taste of what joy in true freedom feels like. They can better understand what it is to be truly free, just as they are free from sin and slaves of righteousness in Christ.

Nathanael Hahn

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