by Elizabeth Hunter—

“Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves,” I say aloud with my worshipping community. Some weeks I slip back into the old wording I remember from childhood: “we are in bondage to sin.” While “captive” and “bondage” evoke different visual details, to me they communicate the same message: We can’t pick this lock. Our freedom comes with a Christ-shaped key.

Even though I know this, I’ve often tried to fix a problem by changing something—a mistake that sticks out as a cause, one element that perhaps might change the course of action. It’s tempting to pin a problematic situation on this or that misplaced word, action or moment. So many of us approach problems as if, just by a little careful editing, we can control, avoid or deny all that is wrong in ourselves and in others.

But this goes against everything we confess when we gather to worship God! Do we hear ourselves? We confess that we are not suffering from a single, temporary mistake, or even a series of mistakes that we can control. We are living in captivity—in bondage—to sin and can not free ourselves. This is not a one-off situation. Captivity is systemic, something we seem particularly resistant to grasping.

But systemic change is hard. Living in captivity fools us into a false sense of security and control. But who really feels loved when they must maintain a front? We just miss out on the deeper experience of love God makes available to us through our vulnerability.

Holy freedom, which leads to justice, isn’t about narrowing our vision or nit-picking. It’s about borrowing God’s wider gaze as we intentionally listen, learn and take in the big picture. In my work, I know that no one wants an editor to jump into a line edit without first reading the manuscript. Put simply, both the writer and the reader benefit if I read the work and take time to look at the big picture.

In the end, all our red ink, band-aids and glib talking points are for naught. When something is systemic, we can’t liberate ourselves. God’s love and justice free us, giving us room and permission to delight in the gifts of vulnerability, authenticity, service and God’s unconditional love.

I’m reminded of Martin Luther’s famous line from The Freedom of a Christian: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” Does it sound like a contradiction? Not really. We know from the life of Christ that grace and service
operate hand-in-hand.

Thanks be to God for the holy wisdom of corporate confession. Something unlocks inside me, destroying all pretense, every time we say: “Forgive us, renew us and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.”

Elizabeth Hunter is editor of Gather.

This article is from the June 2021 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.