21 Jan

I was thinking about the meaning of the word free.

It’s not a very complicated word, but astonishingly, there are 15 definitions for just the adjectival use of free alone.

As mentioned before, my wife and I both have food allergies. One of the main allergens we experience is gluten, and so we are constantly on the lookout for gluten-free (GF) foods.

Gluten-free. Egg free. Dairy free.

What does free mean?

We often think of free as giving us more options, fewer restrictions. But for my wife and I, gluten-free means that our range of food product choices is more narrow rather than broad and unrestricted. As we pursue gluten-free eating, are we actually experiencing the quintessential definition of free: liberty? It certainly doesn’t feel that way.

Perhaps liberty is not the core idea as we consider free.

Perhaps the foundational notion of free is “without.”

Gluten-free food is food without gluten. Freedom is being without the dominion of others. A free lunch is a lunch without cost–if there is such a thing.

It seems that free indicates being without some sort of aspect or constraint, but not without any restriction whatsoever. Free doesn’t mean absolutely free, but without some quality.

And free doesn’t mean without cost.

Anyone that has fought for freedom can tell you that.

I’ve lived in countries that do not have freedom of speech (that is, being without the dominion of others controlling your personal expression). Having grown up in America, it is an odd experience indeed. To find oneself in a place where thoughts cannot be expressed without the potential for reprisal helps to underline the value of being free.

From a Christian perspective, having freedom from sin means being without the dominion of evil and wrongdoing superintending our actions. But it does not mean license to do whatever we want. Freedom is not without any restrictions whatsoever.

Being free from evil means that we are enabled to do good. Being free from wrongdoing means that there is the possibility for us to live righteously. We are free from…, and also free to….

Eating gluten-free means eating without gluten; free from illness, free to live healthily. It also means being without much left in the grocery budget.

Having freedom of speech means communicating without fear; free from punishment, free to speak truth.

Free. Without. From. To.

No wonder there are 15 definitions for this not-so-simple word.


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Posted by on January 21, 2012 in Life, Theology


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