In his meditation on human freedom, the Epistle to the Galatians, Saint Paul outlines how in humanity’s childhood, we were kept under guard by “the basic elements of the world”—the stability of blood and soil, the natural powers and angelic principalities, even the Torah itself. “But when the fullness of the time had come,” Paul says, “God sent forth His Son…that we might receive the adoption as sons.” Something about the Incarnation means that we’ve come of age; we’re no longer under tutors.
We receive this freedom quite apart from whether we deserve it—Paul makes it rather clear we don’t—and with no guarantee that we will exercise it responsibly. Humanity newly in Christ is a bit like a teenager taking the family car for a solo drive for the first time. Hard lessons are virtually guaranteed. And this is in fact exactly what we see: nice as it is to have all those new possibilities, freedom is terrifying, the potential for disaster all too real.
We are as alienated and neurotic as we’ve ever been. Cut off from the old sources of certainty, we try to forge a new identity from hobbies, fandoms, sartorial choices. But it takes more than (say) Jeep ownership, the Broncos, and a model airplane club to sustain a human soul. And we know it—that’s why we have to keep adding stuff, or totally reinvent ourselves every few years. But like that teenager out for the first solo drive, we can’t just quit; we’re already on the highway.
We gotta learn how to drive.