In the world dominated by Western culture, the language of freedom has come to mean one specific thing: the ability to chose without constraint. This is a theological problem. What Robert Jenson rightly calls “the spurious freedom of unaffectedness” is ingrained in our imaginations from our earliest moments of life. We are trained and schooled to view freedom as the lack of constraint, the impresence of any restrainer, the absence of any impediment.
In the gospel’s language, however, this notion of freedom is utter and complete slavery to the principalities and powers. A life ruled by one’s unconstrained desires is not freedom, but utter futility, meaninglessness, and sorrow. From the standpoint of Christian theology the experience of choice bears no necessary connection to the experience of freedom whatsoever.
The experience of choice can only be an experience of freedom on the basis of what is chosen. Only if the object of our choosing is truly liberative can our choosing be an instance of freedom. Thus, I submit that our most profound experiences of freedom tend to come precisely in those situations where we feel we are actually unable to chose. The man who feels completely unable to choose to abandon his wife is experiencing true freedom. The person who cannot bring herself to consider leaving her church for the sake of an advantageous career is experiencing true freedom. The child who cannot do anything other than drink from his mother’s breast is truly and utterly free.
Freedom occurs when our lives rightly participate in the koinonial reality enacted by the gospel. Freedom occurs when our lives are rightly shaped to participate fittingly in the life of the triune God. The experience of choice is only an experience of freedom when our act of choosing draws us into conformity with Christ and participation in God. Choice can only be an instance of freedom when it is seized and transfigured into a true epektasis, an onward movement into the life of the Trinity through Christ and the Spirit. Only through the interruption of grace can our choices be an occasion of freedom.
In the day-to-day practices of living it is precisely those things that seem utterly un-choicelike, things we simply must do because we can do no other that are truly free. We are free, not in that we could do otherwise, but always and only in that we can do no other.