Don't Celebrate Independence Day

Celebrate the freedom we have to be selfless.

On July 4, 1776, thirteen North American colonies informed their governing empire that they no longer trusted it to pursue their best interests. They declared their sovereignty and fought for it over the next seven years before the empire finally recognized their statehood in 1783.

Americans were finally independent. Independent from the influence of others because they clearly didn't need anyone else.

We all know how well that worked out. In 1838, we didn't need the first peoples. In 1857, we didn't need black people. In 1862, we didn't need each other. In 1929, we didn't need our own banks. In 1942, we didn't need immigrants. In 1945, we didn't need the Japanese. And in the 1960's, we didn't need Cubans or the Vietnamese.

Two hundred forty years and dozens of war crimes later, Americans still think they don't need anyone.

It's not an uncommon human posture. Most of us hate depending on others mainly because we don't trust anyone's judgment more than our own. Sure, we defer to tax preparers and car mechanics as needed, but if we're even remotely certain about anything, we'd rather answer to ourselves than rely on someone else.

The United States celebrates the death of dependence every year. Independence Day is the quintessential American holiday not because it's the nation's birthday but because it exalts the principle that founded this country. And just to be clear, that principle is not freedom.

Freedom is a relative concept. For example, freedom from slavery meant being free from forced labor, but it also meant being free to take care of yourself (which, thanks to the Jim Crow laws, wasn't that easy). Likewise, freedom from prison means you're free from confinement but it also means you're free to obey the law.

Being free doesn't mean you can do whatever you want; it means you no longer have to do certain things. Paul described it the same way when he said that Christians were free from sin to live for righteousness. Freedom always comes with an obligation--freedom from and freedom to--and that is what we have in Christ.

Independence is not freedom. Independence is disconnected, egotistic, selfishness. It places the individual at the center of the universe without attachments or competing interests. In many ways, it is a feeble human attempt at achieving divine sovereignty. By pursuing a life without dependence, whether that be on relationships or societal structures or government handouts, we are trying to be like God.

The irony is that the only truly independent being chose a life of dependence. Jesus Christ, the all-powerful son of God, gave up his independence and instead put on human frailty. God depends on no one, yet God walked among us and depended on us by choice.

If the creator of the world willingly depended on us to experience our weakness, how much more ought we who have no choice in our weakness depend on each other? From the moment we're born, we depend on others for our physical and emotional needs. It is an inescapable reality that is not overcome with will-power but rather ignored with self-centeredness.

Independence is not a virtue. Independence is a delusion that enslaves us to ourselves. But just like our freedom in Christ breaks the chains of sin, so our dependence on each other removes the shackles of selfishness. Being dependent on others and they on us may not feel like freedom, but we are helpless on our own and given to evil. And if American history has taught us anything, it's that people shouldn't be independent.

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