The Tyranny of Me

By Joel A. Hess

This Thursday, many of us will celebrate the birth of the Declaration of Independence and the birth of the United States. We will not only celebrate our freedom from British rule, but ideally our freedom from any rule. We pride ourselves on being a people free from any tyranny, If we can’t find tyranny, we will find one or exaggerate one, even if we have to go halfway across the globe. If we can’t find a foreign tyrant, we will turn on our own elected government. It is almost our prime motive as a people. Right now, our headlines are divided between pride parades, fight for freedom to have sex with anyone we want, and conservative voices warning of the government’s persecution of Christians who think otherwise. Ultimately, we all seem to get off on the possibility of being oppressed.

In the end, I think we all would just like to be our own boss, free to rule our domain. That desire certainly lies deep in my DNA. As I drive down the Dan Ryan, I see a sign telling me that using my phone while driving is now a crime. Despite the goodwill of this law, as I see a text coming in from so and so, I want to grab it. Damn those tyrants. I want to do what I want when I want.

It goes deeper than that. “You want it darker,” Leonard Cohen sings. Well, we can do that. Forget King George and Kim Jong-un, I am my worst oppressor, my worst enemy, my worst tyrant. Beware of me. Oh, I can play the game of compassion and certainly I have a good voice knocking in my head, but when the chips are down, I seem to want to rule those around me. Sure, I have friends and family, but how often am I reviewing what my sovereign nation is getting out of it? I can lob cannonballs at those who march in parades, but I have my little parade going too—my pride, my desire to unleash my desires, my dark regime that goes against what they call natural law.

But the joke is that I am not just a tyrant toward others. I’m a tyrant towards me! As David Foster Wallace preached in his famous graduation speech at Kenyon College, “all other Gods will eat you alive.” I don’t even have the best interests in mind for myself. Follow my desires, my instinct? They will consume me. Stick to my best-laid plan? It will be a tragedy. We are all tragic heroes, didn’t you know? Something in us is obviously wrong. Something deep, dark, and sinister. Or was it just “those” people who fill out our history books and current headlines?

Yet even on a lighter note, as I strive to be good, to be great, to rise above, I am a slave driver. I never have enough of my sinful desires, and I never reach the end of my virtues. I don’t work out enough. I don’t hang out with my kids enough. I don’t eat the right foods enough. I wake up every day behind. “Enough” is an abyss. I am the oppressed and the oppressor.

I literally can’t give myself true freedom because it is really a license to self rule. And the self will rule with a drunken iron fist!

There is only one man who can truly be free, who can truly rule himself and the universe, yet not be a tyrant: Jesus Christ

This one who deserves to rule all things, including me, allowed himself to be bound. This one who deserves to execute judgment against all the tyrants of the world, including me, allowed the judgment of tyrannies to fall on Him.

Jesus, the true ruler, died and rose again so that all the pretenders to the throne would be set free! Free from the consequence of their despotic rule. Free from the poetic justice all tyrants eventually receive. Free from sin, death, and the devil. Free from ourselves!

Jesus, the true heir to the throne, forgives me, you and all despots. Jesus, the Son of God, promises to raise us up from the dead! I am free from my sins. They are forgotten in the memory of God. Not only that, but I am free from death itself!

The chains of my tyranny have been lifted. What does that mean? I don’t need to carry the burdens of my own expectations. I don’t need to carry the past around my neck. I don’t need to fear the future. My failures have been blotted out by God. But maybe more powerfully, my virtues, goals, high expectations have been swallowed up in the vast ocean of God’s gift of eternal life and resurrection.

Thank you, God, for delivering me from the tyranny of me.