God provides the very freedom we enjoy, and in keeping with the variety that is inherent in freedom, he provides that we possess unique internal gifts that fit into the overall use and design of heaven. Swedenborg expresses two axioms that are wonderful to meditate on. They are both paradoxes that resolve in a union with each other, ever increasing each other: ‘The more we allow our self to be led by the Lord, the more we become our own’; and, ‘the more people that enter heaven, the more complete heaven becomes’. Both of these emphasize that we have unique skills in us, and that we receive them from Him, and the more we are active in using them, the greaer our fulfilment. True joy comes from developing internal and external skills.
It is true that in life many freedoms can be taken away from us in innumerable ways. But the freedom at the core of our soul is never taken away. In a picture form I see freedom as concentric circles. For instance, in America we have a large amount of freedom, but it can be lessoned by various cultural, physical, and economic factors. When the economy fell we began to lose a certain amount of freedom. Many jobs were gone, so we experienced constrictions and less choice. Another example is from my work in a rehab center. I worked with many patients who suddenly experienced strokes that took away their ability to walk and move much of one side of their body. In the first example the circle became smaller, and in the second much more so. In both cases freedom is taken away. Some may be crushed by the experience and others find an internal place, and fight for a new way and identity. In the later example there is especially a greifing process, because of loss. This grief very often opens a new place in the soul that brings the person closer to God. Some become very angry and close down, at least for a time. In others, external vanities are stripped away and the fight to define their identity comes to the forefront.
Victor Frankl expressed this truth in a very compelling way. In ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ he showed how even in a concentration camp, where there is hardly any freedom but terrible hardship and death, a person can express freedom and a fighting spirit for life. In the movie ‘Starman’, the wise alien tells the scientist, “Do you know what I like best about your planet, when things are the darkest you are at your best’.
The democracy and capitalism of American society that we live in, as faulted as it may be at times, facilitates living in freedom and the development of the creative fighting spirit. Human beings need to, and deep down want to fight for the destiny of their soul, and this fight constitutes our deepest passions. Also, it is important to realize that the nature of God’s freedom is infinite variety; there are no two things the same in the universe. This applies to all phases of life including Religion. Variety in life and religion makes things vibrant and alive.
If one looks in any phone book in the U.S. hundreds of religious options can be found. The quality and viability of these is always being wrestled with, but that is the nature of freedom. It is true that democracy and capitalism can bring out the worst in people at times, but this is part of the beauty and essential truth of my point – the worst also must be seen for what it is, so that it does not become hidden. I believe this is constantly God’s effort, to show us the evil in our nature so it can be dealt with and removed. The ‘real’ worst thing that can happen for any person or society is that evil become trapped and unseen, for then it is like poison in the blood. In our society – capitalism and democracy – neither good nor evil can readily hide; both must survive on the free market. When evil can hide, and is buried, and unseen, masked over, it is death to the human spirit. This is why dictatorships and communist/socialist societies drag down the human spirit. I believe this gets at the meaning of the Biblical statement that we are to be hot or cold. Essentially this phrase means – Evil must be seen to be illiminated. In the parable of the talents, the man who hid his gifts (talents), shared nothing with others, and did not develop his spiritual intelligence – and so he condemned himself. In the US we stand on the shoulders of a covenant that holds the ideal of freedom and liberty under God. No-matter what ones political position, theologically this is very significant. This covenant tethers our nation to the Lord in a democracy and this is what keeps America vital and vibrant. This is what makes America a light to the world.