Freedom and Fishbowls

In his 1913 dictionary, Noah Webster defined freedom, in part, as the “exemption from the power and control of another.” Freedom, we have come to believe, means that we are not bound to anyone or anything. In our highly individualistic culture, we place great value on such independence. But what if we’re wrong? What if we have misjudged our reality and misunderstood true freedom?

Consider a fish in a fishbowl. It would be ridiculous for a mother fish to say to her baby fish, “You can be anything you want to be.” That is simply untrue. The fish lives in a finite reality, with finite opportunities. True freedom, our culture might say, would be to shatter the confining bowl and to explore the world beyond.

What, though, would happen if the fish did manage to break out of his glass world? He would be unable to survive his newfound “freedom,” for he would soon suffocate. The walls of his fishbowl, it would turn out, were not hindering his freedom but maximizing it.

We too live in a finite world. Praise God, He has given us a world far richer than a fishbowl. But it is finite all the same. There are boundaries around our reality. These boundaries, drawn by a God infinite both in love and knowledge are for our good and His glory. True life, true freedom, is found within His boundaries. To believe there is life outside them is to be deceived.

Can we break through the boundaries? Sure, we can. But, when we do, we, like the foolish fish, find that it leads only to death and despair.