The Illusion of Freedom

by Michael Freedom

When we left for Spring break, everything was as it should be. My books for classes were piled on the table in my office, ready to be quickly grabbed as I would dart back to the classroom in in a week. A stack of papers, ready for grading, was piled on the corner of my desk. There would be plenty of time to take care of that when we returned. It had been a long semester already and I was looking forward to a little break. My students were certainly ready for one. A number of them had even used one of their unexcused absences to head home a day early to get a jumpstart on some much-needed rest and relaxation. Their rooms were left much like my office, their books piled in a corner, their clothes in the closet, their laptops on their desks.

After teaching for over two decades, this was a familiar pattern. One that marked that the ending of another school year was fast approaching. One more opportunity for students and faculty alike to catch their breath before the onslaught of final papers, final projects, and final exams would consume our time and our attention. We would blink and it would be Easter and blink again and I would be donning graduation robes to mark another successful completion of the school year. The Spring semester goes by in a flash!

We had no way of knowing that this spring break ritual would not look like previous years. There was just no warning. At least not one we had paid attention to inside our protective bubble of campus life. Little did we know that those offices and dorm rooms would stand, like time capsules, for months before anyone would reenter them. Little did we know that for some of us, the hasty “goodbye” and “see you after break” would be the last time we would be in a class together. Little did we know that everything was about to change… forever.

It was shortly after we got home that the news reports started. COVID-19? What was that? Somewhere, halfway around the world, a maelstrom was forming.

That sounds awful. Thank goodness we are safe here. Truth be told, I still couldn’t point out Wuhan, China on a map if my life depended on it. The news seemed to be too awful and too far removed all at the same time.

“What do you mean they quarantined an entire city? They shut the whole thing down?”

“Thank goodness we live in America; nothing like that would ever happen here.” “We have the best hospitals and medical centers in the world!”

“The American people would never stand for it.”

An email came that week from the Provost’s office. Our week of Spring break would be extended into two as we monitored the situation as the Governor worked with the CDC to determine the best ways to keep everyone safe. Students and faculty were to refrain from returning to campus. The college was effectively closed.

An extra week of spring break? We rarely even got snow days. This was going to be awesome! The amount of work I could catch up on… I mean, the amount of Netflix I could catch up on!

Governor’s orders. Shelter at home order in place. Restaurants closed. Movie theatres closed. Businesses closed. Schools closed. Churches… closed. Come on… it’s Easter!

50 percent capacity. 20 percent capacity. 10 percent capacity. Everyone wear masks. Stay at least six feet apart. Don’t visit with friends… extended family… your parents. Close the nursing homes. No visitors in hospitals. What do you mean we are running out of ventilators… masks… hand sanitizer… antibacterial soap… Lysol wipes… toilet paper?!?!? This can’t happen here! Can it?

Somewhere those papers still sat, ungraded. The books were still piled in eager anticipation of being snatched up again. Empty chairs waited at empty desks. Empty classrooms sat in silence. The gaze of students was replaced by flickering screens… laptops for those that had brought them home…smartphones for others. No textbooks… they were still locked in dorm rooms. No library books for compiling research; they were locked in a shuttered library. No graduation ceremony. No robes. This will certainly be over by the Fall. Right? God, you’ve got this… right???

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16)

When things are going well or at least when they are predictable, it is easy to believe the lie that we are in control. It’s easy to live our lives without much thought towards God. We make our plans, we set our paths, and we assume that we have control over small to monumental decisions in our lives. We’ve got this! We have this all under control.

However, this control is an illusion. It can be disrupted in a moment…even by a microscopic virus. Then, all of the power of all of the governments of the world falter and our weakness and inadequacy is revealed.

As James so adeptly points out, living our lives without recognizing God’s lordship or His will is sinful living. In a country where rugged individualism is coupled with a “pull myself up by my own bootstraps” mentality, it is easy to fall comfortably into this lie. I wish that it didn’t take a global pandemic to remind me that He is in control. He alone has the power over my life and over His creation. My sense of control is only an illusion and my belief in that illusion is fostered by my pride, my arrogance, and own sinful sense of self-importance. My strength lies not in my wrestling for control but in my releasing that control to the only One that has the power and authority to wield it. Indeed, this is what the Bible teaches us, that our freedom is found in submitting to the authority of God, to His purposes, and His will.

The things of this world that shock us are no surprise to our God. The powers that bring us to our knees are no match for our God. The evil that deceives us flees before our God. The fears that hold us captive shatter before our God. And the peace that eludes us is ever-present with our God.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

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