It’s that red-white-and-blue Independence Day time again, time to unpack the beach wear, fire up the barbeque, and get ready for the annual parade of pyrotechnic creativity. It’s also a time when we should pull our minds away from the happy hecticity long enough to engage in some deep personal reflection about what a gift freedom has been for every one of us. The rights and privileges that we’ve inherited with the incredible legacy of liberty were handed to us by the grace of God and the blood of others, and they deserve more than brief, superficial acknowledgement. The principles undergirding our freedom and the price paid to establish them deserve our profound appreciation, and they deserve an unshakable personal commitment to their preservation. Those early patriots may not have imagined the full extent of what they were risking everything to achieve, but they knew it was worth whatever it cost them.
This 242nd anniversary of our nation’s birth finds us embroiled in political scandal and turmoil at a level unprecedented in modern history. Allegations of deep-seated corruption and reports suggesting conspiratorial activities at the highest levels of law enforcement are being made on a daily basis. Trustworthiness of the agencies reporting on those allegations has descended to an all-time low, and manufactured internal dissention based on class distinctions and racial differences is tearing our nation apart. We recipients of America’s legacy of liberty have a responsibility this week to renew our allegiance to the preservation and defense of its foundational principles. In light of that, some reflections I shared a few years ago (Corruption ~ Freedom’s Terminal “Diagnosis”) seem particularly relevant and worth a second look.
You Get Used to It ~
When I first arrived in Central Asia on a mission with our church a few years ago, I was immediately challenged and fascinated by how different so many things were than those in my familiar surroundings back home. I asked an American who had moved there how he managed to deal with the changes. “Oh,” he said, “You just get used to it.” It was a phrase I had heard before.
When Diane and I moved to Alaska years ago and faced climate changes more radical than anything we had ever seen, I asked other geographical transplants how on earth they managed to deal with it. “You get used to it,” they said. “After a while you don’t notice it unless it gets really extreme.” I attempted to explain that it was really extreme all the time, but it was clear that their perception of weather extremities by that time was screwed up beyond help.
The same kind of thing happened to my half-sister who moved from eastern Pennsylvania to Arizona. When I ask how she deals with temperatures like 112 degrees, she says something like “Well… it was pretty awful at first but you make adjustments and try to ignore it.”
Adaptability Has a Dangerous Downside ~
We human beings have an astounding capacity to adapt to changing conditions. That quality enables us to survive, and we find it demonstrated all over this magnificent planet. People live in all kinds of environments, eat all kinds of things, overcome incredible logistical and environmental obstacles, and find ways to function in the harshest conditions. The genius of our Creator in that regard is beyond description—but like so many of the good things He built into us, it can get us into trouble. I saw that dangerous element of our adaptive quality during that first trip to Asia, and it had nothing to do with the climate.
Beyond the minor dietary challenges and cultural distinctions, there was a common custom that I found disturbing. The practice of bribery was widespread and commonplace. It had infiltrated virtually every level of bureaucratic authority from school officials to traffic cops to building inspectors to tax authorities, and the consequences of not complying could have extensive personal implications.
Following her life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ, a young woman saw bribery as sinful and decided to stop participating. At the time of my visit, she had been without a driver’s license for three years, even though she repeatedly achieved perfect scores on the tests. She refused to take part in the bribery “offered” by the official involved and was left with no license—and no recourse. When I questioned other locals about the corrupt practice, they said the same thing I had been told about the weather in Alaska and Arizona. “You just get used to it, and after a while, you don’t notice it anymore.”
Accepting Corruption Corrupts Freedom Itself ~
Like the bacteria that reduces things that were once vibrant and healthy to something foul-smelling and repulsive, moral corruption is a behavioral bacteria that is drawn to power and feeds on liberty. No level of authority is immune from its influence.
No doubt the initial reaction to the bribery problem was to resist it, but at some point, the victims got tired of fighting. Instead of cleaning it up, they got “used to it.” Like accommodating changes in diet and challenging weather, they adjusted and accepted it as normal. An adaptive response to things we cannot change may be a good thing, but to apply that capacity to moral degradation is dangerous. Corruption is malignant and will never stop on its own. If not confronted and removed it will always have lethal impact on personal freedom.
Corruption’s Ultimate Target ~
Before corruption invaded politics, it invaded the place where its antidote is stored. In light of today’s challenges, consider these excerpts from Peter’s warning concerning corrupt leaders plaguing the early Church.
But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption… They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness… For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness… While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage (selected from 2 Peter 2:12-19 NKJV).
Lady Liberty has been infected, and adapting to the corruption will make her prognosis terminal. May God help us not to “get used to it.”
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