Are you free?

If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples;

and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.

-John 8:31-32

Dear Members and Friends of the SF Swedenborgian Church,

When I heard the word “freedom” for the first time, I was probably about 10 years old. It was after my grandfather returned from a visit to Gwangju, the capital city of the province, pale-faced and in shock. He had just witnessed a large, violent protest against the governing military regime in which soldiers had open-fired onto a crowd of civilians, killing many. For days and weeks following, it was all that the villagers were talking about. As I listened to the conversations of the adults, I overheard one of the elders say, “We do not have freedom. We just have to follow whatever rule the government imposes on us. That is the secret for a long life.”

The Korean  word for “freedom” actually originated from the combination of two Chinese characters : 自由.  The word 自 means: 1. From Self or self; 2. Naturally. The word 由 means: 1. To originate from; 2. To use; 3. To follow.  Therefore, the word 自由 means: 1. To do as one desires without being restricted by others; 2. To do whatever one desires; 3. To do as one desires within the boundary that the law permits. However it is defined, somehow in the essence of the word and concept, “freedom” is the innate and undeniable human desire to do as one’s own heart pleases. This innate human desire can be problematic because desiring to do whatever one pleases without any restriction can be equal to an extreme way of being selfish, which is self-destructive in its nature.

Later in life, the word “freedom” became a governing principle for me after studying Swedenborg’s Divine Love & Wisdom and Divine Providence. What I learned from Swedenborg is that in order for anything to be truly real in my mind, it has to be a voluntary choice of mine. Swedenborg’s use of “freedom” comes with a twofold meaning: 1. It is a God-given ability and right that constitutes the core of what makes us human; 2. Anything done by freedom becomes not just the responsibility of the doer, but more importantly, an actual and permanent part of the doer! In other words, freedom is the God-given state of being by which we form and generate our inner reality that will become our permanent and eternal self in heaven.

Often, we use the word and the concept of freedom as a kind of condition determining our behavioral ability within human societies. However, Swedenborg suggests that there can be an even deeper understanding of freedom, both as the core of what makes us human and, at the same time, as the means through which we grow to be spiritual beings. In addition, Swedenborg emphasizes that the nature of the Creator is love itself, and thus goodness itself. What this means is that the act of freedom, if done truthfully and properly, should add goodness to one’s mind and heart, causing a sensation of heavenly joy. A moment of experiencing true love and true goodness would bring nothing but a lasting and overwhelming delight and joy into the heart that is connected with it!

So, my dear friends and church family, are you free?

Blessings and Prayers, Rev. Junchol Lee

originally published 07-27-14