Defecting East German soldier Hans Conrad Schumann leaps over a barbed wire barricade at the Bernauer Street sector into West Berlin on Aug. 15, 1961. Schumann made his break for freedom to join his family which had fled earlier to West Berlin. (Peter Leibing/Assocaited Press/Contipress) via boston.com.
A few days ago (August 13) Germany memorialized the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin wall, a measure to keep communist East Germany intact and protected from the more democratic / capitalistic West Germany. The divide ran right through Berlin.
The above picture is endearing and a picture of life-risking desire to be free and freely join those one loves. While the circumstances are unknown, Schumann, who was immortalized in this photograph as he leapt across the barbed wire fence that became the Berlin Wall, hanged himself from a tree June 20, 1998 near his garden, police said.
Certainly there are complexities when one arrives at a point of committing suicide. However, what we can draw from this picture / event is that freedom according to the world is not enough to produce freedom in Christ. Just as there is a worldly sorrow and a godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:9) there is false freedom and true freedom.
Too often the western church, particularly the American church, associates freedom in Christ with democracy and nationalistic freedoms. In fact, years and years of near imperialistic mission efforts would support this. If we build a church then we’ve, well, built a church. If we send an American to stay in a foreign land for decades and pastor a people, then the church will be healthy. When I spent a few trips in North Vietnam it wasn’t uncommon in the midst of impoverished villages to see a fairly elaborate Catholic church building. Sometimes those buildings were abandoned, some had become the communist government’s home in that province.
In other places I have met with underground church pastors who never requested that we pray for a democratic upheaval in their land. They asked we pray for laborers, for the gospel, for the purity in their churches, for the safety of their families. Never did they want the “western” version of the church and they didn’t want to become soft. Seldom did they request prayer for personal safety.
I’m not saying democracy is bad and that every church built in some 3rd world village is a feigned, fleshly attempt at missions. What I am saying is that there is no real freedom apart from Christ.
Consider the imprisonment of every apostle. Consider the seclusion / imprisonment of John on the island of Patmos when God gives Him the great Revelation, depicting the eternal freedom for His own children forever. Consider Luther’s “friendly” imprisonment for his own safety, in the mean time he translated the Scriptures into German. Scripture in the hands of laymen! Freedom from the tyranny of priests, bishops, and cardinals (even the pope).
Consider Paul in Galatians 5:1…
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
The “yoke of slavery” was not a heavy handed, communistic government. The yoke of slavery was the law. Specifically, the yoke was treating the law as a means of achieving righteousness before God, when it only exposed our sinful self-righteousness, pointing to Jesus as our only hope. To know real freedom we have to know what truly binds us. What binds us, regardless of our nationality, is sin. The law exposes our sin, our bindings. The law points to Christ as the only law keeper, who imparts to us His righteousness through His death on the cross and our faith in His finished, resurrected work.
So, what purpose freedom? Consider a few verses later in Galatians 5:13…
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Freedom in Christ is not a freedom from Christ. The apostles considered themselves bondslaves to Christ. They were bound to Him, though adopted as sons. Our freedom is not a license to then live as we would, in sinful pursuit. No, we are free to serve not self, but others. There is no greater service to others than to proclaim freedom to the captives, and real freedom is found only in the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, you may be burdened to aid society and help free those in physical captivity, do not lose sight of Conrad Schumann. You could free him to run and leap to an earthly safety and rest, for him then to feel the weight of bondage and loss that leads to death.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.