The NFL handed down a four-game suspension to Kareem Jackson, a player for the Denver Broncos. After ejections from games and hefty fines for unnecessary roughness, the fourth infraction cost him his freedom to play. In announcing the suspension, NFL executive Jon Runyan told Jackson, “You could have made contact with your opponent within the rules, yet you chose not to.”
Jackson exercised autonomy to make his own choices while on the football field. Playing the game his way cost him some freedom, at least temporarily. So clearly, autonomy and freedom are not the same thing. A life guided solely by personal choices is not freedom. Our current cultural moment invites you into that confusion.
Consider the popular call to “follow your heart” otherwise stated as, “The heart wants what it wants.” Selena Gomez’s song by that title includes the plaintive lyrics, “Save your advice, ’cause I won’t hear; You might be right, but I don’t care.” She predicts the depressing outcome of the autonomous life. “This is a modern fairytale; No happy endings, no wind in our sails.”
The group Glass Animals released a song called “Heat Waves” about a wandering search for reality, goaded by entertainment culture. “Heat waves, I’m swimming in a mirror; road shimmer, wiggling the vision…fake water all across the road. We never think about you and me but today, I see our reflections clearly in Hollywood.”
Both of these cultural artifacts cry out with hopelessness about failed relationships. They give voice to a generation raised on the Hollywood promise of autonomy to choose your own truth and reality. But no one is there to keep that promise. To follow your heart is to learn, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). It is not a malleable, self-envisioned, autonomous reality that brings peace to the searching heart.
You will find the peace and freedom your heart craves when you believe your Creator. Seeking truth about morality, reality, and eternity elsewhere is a rejection of God, which results in spiritual slavery. “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin,” Jesus said. That is the default human condition. Jesus offers the only solution. “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” How is that? “If you continue in My word, you are truly disciples of mine; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-36). There is no freedom without truth, and Jesus is Truth writ large on human history.
NFL player Jackson will once again enjoy the freedom to play his position and pop singers may well find reason for hope, but not because they exercise autonomy. Freedom from deception is what the human heart needs, and that comes from the One who is true.