Freedom Through Obedience: A Lesson from Star Wars

Personal autonomy has become the reigning virtue of our day. If it feels true to you, then it must be true for you. As SCOTUS Justice Anthony Kennedy famously said, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” On this view, freedom entails obeying only the self.

Freedom Obedience Star Wars

But the Star Wars franchise portrays a different kind of freedom, a freedom that is found through obedience. For instance, in episode IV (the first Star Wars film) Obi-Wan Kenobi sneaks Luke Skywalker, R2-D2, and C-3PO past a small group of stormtroopers. When the stormtroopers stop them for inquiry, Ob-Wan simply waves his hand and says, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” One of the stormtroopers repeats the phrase and they obey.

In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke learns the powers of the Force by submitting to Yoda. Luke realizes he cannot learn the Force alone and that he must obey his Master. And in the climactic scene of Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader ultimately saves his son Luke through not obeying the Emperor and fatally heaving him into a chasm in the Death Star.

In his excellent book Movies are Prayers, Josh Larsen describes how the newest Star Wars hero, Rey, learns freedom through obedience in The Force Awakens (2015):

Interestingly, Rey initially refused to acknowledge the power of the Force when she encountered it earlier in the film, after discovering the lightsaber that once belonged to Luke Skywalker. Her journey, then, is one in which she learns that submitting to the Force leads to flourishing. In both that mind-control showdown with Kylo Ren and a climactic lightsaber duel with him, it isn’t until Rey closes her eyes and prayerfully steps outside of her own self that the Force fully flows through her. In following the Force, she is freed. In trying to bend the Force to his own will, Kylo Ren suffers (p. 124).

Star Wars, of course, is fiction. But it is based upon a premise that runs against the prevailing virtue of our day—personal autonomy. Star Wars portrays freedom as being found through submitting to proper authority and objective reality, not through defining one’s own existence. On this view, freedom is not found through following one’s feelings, but submitting one’s feelings to reality. In other words, freedom is found through obedience.

Biblical Freedom

This is the paradox of freedom. And it is the view of freedom portrayed in the Bible. In his final speech to the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land, Moses sums up what God desires of them:

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).

In other words, the Israelites would only be free if they obey God by “walk[ing] in His ways,” which were given for their good. The Israelites would find freedom if they submitted their lives to God’s direction rather than their own.

The idea of freedom through obedience is counterintuitive for those raised in a culture that values personal autonomy. But Star Wars subversively portrays a truth we intuitively graspthat obedience is required for genuine freedom. That is why King David said, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Ps. 19:7).

 


 

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17 replies
  1. A brother in Christ says:

    Absolutely. One may think he’s free in doing whatever you want, but take addiction for example. If one smokes, one will likely get addicted. Now that one is addicted, despite knowledge of the dangers of tobacco smoke, one is ultimately a slave to the cigarette, even though he thinks one is free. Every time it calls. When one is out, one starts jonesing for another. That continues on and on and on until one finally sets his will to put them down and be free from it.
    This is the way sin works. It may make you feel good and free for the moment, then the consequence comes. Once one submits to the will of the Lord Jesus Christ, you are now free from sin, and ultimately the consequence of that sin.

    Reply
  2. TGM says:

    This is absurd. It’s absurd because Star Wars has no shortage of incidents where obedience fails and disobedience wins the day. It’s absurd because you cite The Force, a pantheistic philosophy in support of your theistic case. It’s absurd that a credentialed college professor and author would cherry-pick campy pop culture (that he has apparently not seen) in order to make a point. Now I can quote literature, too. You seek freedom through obedience? “Freedom is slavery.” Drawn from the most famous authoritarian fiction of the last century, this is what you’re advocating.
    .
    This site has jumped the shark.

    Reply
  3. A brother in Christ says:

    Freedom is slavery? Every society has always had rules of conduct whether right or wrong. Without rules of conduct, without any type of accountability one tends to lean on the side of evil, for the imaginations of man’s heart is evil from his youth. If you ever read history you’ll discover that this was the case with most of the dictators of history. Without any accountability to anyone, they reigned unchecked and countless people were starved, murdered and everything else. Jesus said, ” come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. ” That was an invitation to come to him as you are and follow his example. As I said above in the first comment, you may think you’re free in whatever you want to do, but there’s always a consequence, and one tends to fall to it, whatever it may be, because it continues to call and one becomes a slave to it. All sin can literally become addictive. Lay it at Jesus’ feet, and he sets you free from it.
    To your other point, yes, sometimes good things can come from bad things, but it doesn’t justify the bad.

    Reply
    • TGM says:

      Dictators unaccountable?? What history have you read? Dictators are accountable to their own centers of power. If they lose their political support they get revoluted, deposed, assassinated, and so forth. That a dictator can stack the deck in their favor does not remove their accountability. But to whom is your god accountable? This is the celestial tyranny that Hitchens spoke of so eloquently.

      Reply
      • A brother in Christ says:

        They eventually became accountable because evil always falls eventually. They do stack the deck and become unchecked for a time. I obviously wasn’t trying to give a detailed account of history.
        You call God a cosmic dictator, the question is, have you ever investigated Christianity, or do you only read one side? You are free to do as you wish, God doesn’t force you into his presence. But, ultimately, certain behavior is harmful and evil will ultimately meet its demise.

        Reply
        • TGM says:

          I’ve read the bible, which some self-identified Christians would say is all that is necessary. I’ve also studied the natural world extensively, which other self-identified Christians would say is part of god’s Book of Nature, and thus also necessary subject material. And I’ve surveyed extensive apologetic works that some self-identified Christians would recommend while others would recommend against. I’ve had a decade of formal instruction in the old testament, biblical history, hebrew, jewish traditions, history of Christianity, and philosophy. And I spent lots of time doing something resembling prayer. So, yes, I’ve investigated these claims extensively. Every version of a god inspired by a bible looks like a cosmic dictator.
          .
          But what, pray tell, is “Christianity” anyway? There are numerous belief systems that people have identified as “Christian”, some say there are as many as 30,000+ sects and vastly more individual perspectives within these clusters. It seems that there is wide disagreement on just what you might mean by “Christianity”. And I don’t get to decide what that is. It’s arguable whether Christians even get to decide what “Christianity” is. Frankly, all I can do is accept or reject some proposition on offer. And none of them has impressed me. So what flavor of Christianity do you adhere to and why are you correct?

          Reply
          • A brother in Christ says:

            As I said, it’s your choice in what you want to believe.
            Hitchens didn’t understand the gospel anymore than most athiest do. God doesn’t have anyone to be accountable to because He is uncreated. He’s always been and always will be. He already has perfect character, so He doesn’t need to be accountable anyway. God has never wiped out people for no reason. He always has a sufficient reason for what He does.
            His law was not to exercise tyranny just for the fun of it. He created man in His image and sin is the violation of that image by disobedience. Everything that God forbids us to do is for our own good If civil government
            enacts and enforces laws that are good for the safety of the people, does that make civil government
            a dictator? because there’s a standard one is supposed to live up to for one’s own good and for the good of others.
            Yes there’s different denominations but most of them agree on the main and plain things. Can’t say that for all, because some think the Bible is irrelevant or just a story, or something. And to be clear, mormanism,
            jevovahs witness and Gnostics are not Christian. They are heresies.
            I myself don’t hold to any denomination. I adhere to the Bible as best I can. I’m not always correct in everything nor is anyone else. But I, and most conservative Christians are correct in the identity of Jesus and what He has done for us by His death and resurrection. Christianity is putting ones trust in God, and submitting to his will and following the example of Jesus.

          • TGM says:

            Civil government is not a dictator. There is widespread accountability. There is judicial review. There is citizen review. There is the ballot box. There is jury nullification. There are layers and layers of useful inefficiency and bureaucracy to prevent excess and overreach in government. Where does anything similar exist for your god?
            .
            And civil government may “set standards” but they are open to debate and indefinite reconsideration. Where is the equivalent forum to debate divine standards?
            .
            Your comment: “And to be clear, mormanism, jevovahs witness and Gnostics are not Christian.” So you say. But I’m not here to be your referee. They call themselves Christian and I’m not going to adjudicate that. “Christian” is a label that does not seem to have a whole lot of use really.
            .
            As to Hitchens’s understanding of the bible, I cannot speak. But I’m sure he read it. If he did not understand it after reading it, then whose fault is that? (Hint: the book’s “perfect” author). But if you mean to tell me that understanding the bible requires someone else to explain it, then 1) why bother reading the book and 2) what was the point of the protestant reformation?

          • Tracey says:

            Waiting for a thumbs up from another person; you’ll be there till the cows come home.
            Study the words of God is not the same as read the words of God.
            A still mind makes way for knowing the word of God.
            Mindless chit-chatter, is the same as thrown money into a bottomless pit- the abyss.

  4. Susan says:

    Your article does sound pantheistic Sean but yes there is freedom in obedience because freedom comes with responsibility. But a lot of people seeking freedom are probably hoping to get free of responsibility.

    Reply
    • A brother in Christ says:

      Susan, you wrote, ” a lot of people seeking freedom are probably trying to get free of responsibility. ”
      You’re right about that. Every one of us has tried that and probably didn’t realize it. It’s definitely obvious in today’s society though.

      Reply
      • Susan says:

        These are very strange times to be living in for sure. Look at this thread. Sean McDowell decided to wax whimsical to make a point but in the argumentative culture of apologetics whimsy is not very well tolerated.

        You can write the Narnia Chronicles for a Christian audience but you really can’t expect the world opposed to Christian values to get it.

        Your point about addiction is true. There is no freedom in addiction. But I have seen opponents to Christianity even denounce Alcoholics Anonymous for it’s faith based programming which gets results for people who need them.

        It’s a terrible thing to think a human being’s freedom from addiction and God’s role in it is free game to be trashed by some who virulently oppose seeing religion as fulfilling any positive role at all for people. Some people wouldn’t mind setting back an addict’s recovery to score a banal point arguing on some internet message board. Detracting from religion is more important to them than respecting the result the recovering addict gets from observing the faith based program. When anti-religion people argue against AA it doesn’t even seem to dawn on them that AA is an emergency intervention and they don’t seem to have a solution to put in AA’s place. You have to teach an addict that freedom and responsibility for one’s self go together and faith based programming must instill enough hope in people to try. I don’t understand why people would want to undermine other people’s hope but these intellectual games that people are determined to win at any cost are overly competitive.

        Reply
      • Susan says:

        Some of the best sermons are songs. Google Ce Ce Winans song “Mercy Said No” and listen to it. It is a beautiful song. Still I rise by Yolanda Adams is another powerfully motivating song. Sermons are motivational and so are songs and the world needs more motivation to move away from sin than it does false rationalizations to stay in sin until it really damages people.

        With more motivation you can actually accomplish things.

        The lyrics are:

        I was just a child, when I felt the Savior leading
        I was drawn to what I could not understand
        And for the cause of Christ, I have spent my days believing
        That what He’d have me be, who I am
        As I’ve come to see the weaker side of me
        I realize His grace is what I’ll need
        When sin demanded justice for my soul
        Mercy said no
        I’m not going to let you go
        I’m not going to let you slip away
        You don’t have to be afraid
        Mercy said no
        Sin will never take control
        Life and death stood face to face
        Darkness tried to steal my heart away
        Thank You Jesus, Mercy said no

        CeCe Winans – Mercy Said No Lyrics | MetroLyrics

        Reply
        • Susan says:

          Here’s the rest of the lyric:

          For God so loved the world, that He sent His son to save us
          From the cross He built a bridge to set us free
          Oh, but deep within our hearts, there is still a war that rages
          And makes a sacrifice so hard to see
          As midnight fell upon the crucifixion day
          The light of hope seemed oh so far away
          As evil tried to stop redemption’s flow
          Mercy said no
          I’m not going to let you go
          I’m not going to let you slip away
          You don’t have to be afraid
          Mercy said no
          Sin will never take control
          Life and death stood face to face
          Darkness tried to steal my heart away
          Thank You Jesus, Mercy said no
          And now when heaven looks at me
          It’s through the blood of Jesus
          Reminding me of one day long ago
          Mercy said no
          I’m not going to let you go
          I’m not going to let you slip away
          You don’t have to be afraid
          Mercy said no
          Sin will never take control
          Life and death stood face to face
          Darkness tried to steal my heart away
          Thank You Jesus, Mercy said no

          Reply
          • A brother in Christ says:

            You’re right about that. Music has the ability to inspire. So do sermons. I went to a church in Georgia and it was a black pastor. He pretty much sung the whole sermon. It was pretty good and inspiring. Sermons also, when preached right and has good subject matter, engages the mind as well and convicts the soul of man in such ways that it helps them to change for the better. I had a pastor in Lebanon MO. It was called Tabernacle babtist church. He could preach.

  5. Susan says:

    Personal autonomy has gradually became more and more popular in the West since the Age of Enlightenment started to validate human reason more highly than it should.
    As a result we now over stress personal autonomy in the West and have evolved into a nuclear type family from an extended family model and nuclear families are weaker than extended families. But that could be one of the results that comes from overvaluing human reasoning over simple obedience to God.

    It has also led to evidentialism in apologetics. Where simple belief sufficed before now we have people trying to prove themselves to others but why? Other people are sinners. All people need to humble themselves and seek God’s favor but few people on message boards know to do that any more. It stifles discussions.

    But who is going to me more rational than God and know the right way to go about life more than Him?

    The Bible is God’s authority and we can obediently accept that and reason along with God when we read it or we can devolve to less important people’s thinking and let their thinking guide us.

    Who would you rather have guide your thought processes? A holy omnipotent God who knows all things now and in the future or a man prone to limitations and error?

    We need to refer to God more who fully appreciates our human limitations more and to people less. There is no comparison between the intellect of a good God who can create a whole universe and the thoughts of people who regularly change their minds and learn by trial and error.

    God allows us to learn by trial and error but He doesn’t learn that way because He already knows.

    I am about to give up acknowledging any evidence questions by anyone because I know that everyone knows there is a God because God says they know. The Age of Englightenment really just ushered in a modern dark age where people grew even vainer in their own reasoning and made up more and more reasons for disobeying God which just alienates them further from His mercy and grace. If people just meditated on God’s love for them personally maybe people wouldn’t have to strive egostically over and over wearing themselves out trying to prove something people already know. God exists everyone knows it just like they know they breathe. It is that obvious.

    Romans 1:18-21King James Version (KJV)

    18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

    19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.

    20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

    21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

    Apologetics is the place where some people deliberately seek tomreinforce their own vanity. But everyone knows there is a God and nobody is more intelligent than God with a better heart towards people.

    So why accept lesser beings thinking ahead of God’s? It doesn’t compute.

    2 Timothy 3
    New International Version

    1But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

    6They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. 8Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. 9But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.

    “Always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth”? Yes and this is exhausting.

    Apologetics just becomes a stupid one upmanship game where God’s Word and Truth is devalued and ignore in favor of their own reasoning.

    Go watch Sye Ten Bruggencate’s youtube video atheists. You are without excuse.

    Here’s the video name: Sye Ten Bruggencate | Apologetics is easy – Believe your Bible

    No one has to place the evidence game with you ever not if they really believe in God.

    Everyone just reasons his own way to or away from God.

    So examine yourself atheists. Why are you reasoning yourself away from a loving God. Are your minds and wills really that weak?

    God has answered all the salvation questions in the Bible. It is not the Book of Science. So wasn’t that slick of some atheists to substitute science as the topic for salvation.

    Can science save you eternally?

    God is changelss but we know the human mind can be fooled and could even want to be. Plenty of people exhibit weak wills too.

    Why would you approach the Bible for science answers? Are people responsible enough to know how to create a whole world? Of course not. Why would God tell us everything about
    how he created everything? We can’t be trusted. The first thing people did with knowledge of the atom is made a bomb and went out and dropped it. Not once but twice.

    So stop the false substitution of science for salvation and get real with yourselves and examine yourselves as Jesus says to do.

    Everyone knows there is a God. God says so. It doesn’t mean the world can’t try to override and over write the operating system of your mind. It tries all the time and we can assimilate more and more evil and corruption until we can’t even pay attention to God any more.

    So He tells us to repent.

    Repentance is the start over point where God starts to get worldliness cleaned out of our hearts and minds like a virus is cleaned out of a computer.

    So think about it. Do you want to get your heart right with God or are you satisfied with weak substitutes.

    If you’re satisfied with the worldly weak substitutes then stay home content with it. Don’t go up on blogs trying to sell it to other people trying to validate your internal error and corruption to yourself.

    Evil is communicable. It is a social disease. So see Jesus and get cured or stay home with your disease because God says you are communicating evil and nonsensical thinking by not accepting Him. You believe atheists. You just don’t accept for whatever internal error or motive you are entertaining. That is between you and God.

    And no I am not threatening anyone with hell. I am a universalist. But you atheists can’t even get to universalism to accept or decline that idea because you can’t even get past justification.

    Reply

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