Liberty or Safety

Pastor James
March 7, 2024

We just had our primary election. It seems that this election cycle will be another tumultuous one. Many agree that so much is at stake in this (presidential) election. Some fear that our democracy itself is at stake. Others are upset about the present direction of our country.

We cannot deny the importance of government and having the most qualified people in its offices through a fair and democratic election process. But we are aware that there are two fundamentally different views on the government. Some see the government as a necessary evil and want to restrict its power as much as possible. Others expect the government to provide as much service as possible for them.

This comes down to the perennial debate concerning safety and liberty. Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

His words seem to warn us against the government's overreach into the individual liberties of its citizens. We should take this warning seriously. Tyrannical regimes have confiscated the freedoms of their citizens in the name of ensuring safety. But these freedoms, once taken away, are rarely returned to the citizens.

But Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, challenges the “traditional” libertarian understanding. Franklin’s words were in reference to the tax dispute between the Penn family and the Pennsylvania General Assembly, which demanded the family pay taxes to fund the state’s defense during the French and Indian War. In its original context, “safety” was the Penn family’s “right” not to pay taxes. But Franklin “regarded the ability of a community to defend itself as the essential liberty....”

There are times when the citizens must “[a]sk not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country” (J.F. Kennedy). Unfortunately, we know how the government can take advantage of its citizens’ goodwill and patriotism.

It seems we are stuck between the government’s basic duty to keep its citizens safe and free and its tendency to grab more power for itself; between the citizens’ civic duty to contribute to society and their selfishness to insist on their rights without much regard for the well-being of the society. Citizens may not trust their politicians and politicians may look down on the masses as ignorant and gullible. For our republic to work, we need good, competent, wise, and courageous politicians and citizens. But is that how things are?

The good news is that Jesus Christ came to give us an altogether different kind of “state”—the City of God, not the city of man. It manifests itself through the church and does not compete with the geopolitical nations of the world. Jesus is the Sovereign of the City of God, but He came as a Servant-King: “...the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28); “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). He made the ultimate sacrifice of His life to save us from sin because sin makes us liable to God’s eternal judgment—“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). Having Jesus as King, you will be safe from any kind of abuse or exploitation. And there in the City of God, you will have true liberty, which is to do good—loving God and loving others in truth, humility, and generosity—not to indulge sinful desires that are self-destructive and harmful to others. Because we are tainted by sin, we can’t work or will ourselves into the City of God, which is pure and sublime. But it will be granted to you by God’s grace and mercy if you open your heart to Jesus as your gracious Savior and Lord!