One day, long ago, a man walked into a violin craftsman's workshop, curious to find out how violins were made. The craftsman held up a single violin string, and waved it around in the air. It swung around in his hand, flipping and flopping this way and that. "Do you see how free this violin string is?" asked the craftsman. "It is free to turn and bend and flip and flop in so many different ways." "Yes," replied the observer, mystified by the point of the illustration. "The string is free, as you say."
"But it is not free to sing," continued the craftsman, now taking the string and threading it through a tuning peg at one end of the violin and fastening it into the bridge at the other. "It is only free to sing when it is fastened and tensioned by the violin," he said, tightening the string as he turned the tuning peg. Once the violin string had been fastened, tensioned and tuned, the craftsman then began to play a hauntingly beautiful melody with his fingers and bow on the string.
"The string is finally free to sing," he declared.
This counter-intuitive story serves as a parable of God's ways when it comes to true freedom. We so often feel that any anchoring, fastening, tightening or tuning means the end of our freedom. Freedom, at least from a Western perspective, is usually defined as the casting off of our limits and the exploring of our options. But for God, this is not true freedom. For God, the freedom to discover who we really are, and what we were designed to do, involves the acceptance of some wise limits.
Think of the words of Jesus in John's Gospel. "If you obey my commands you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." How counter-intuitive is that? Obedience to Jesus's commands; to repent, to believe the Gospel, to love our neighbors and forgive our enemies, although difficult, brings us into freedom not bondage.
Many of us who have got married have experienced this counter-intuitive truth. Especially men. At my bachelor party, some of my single friends offered me condolences like my wedding was going to be my funeral. My wife was apparently going to be my ball and chain. What they didn't realize, was that while marriage brought more responsibility and some limits to my independence, it was the beginning of a whole new life and identity, not the end of it.
The metaphor extends to our relationship with the Church too. Paul, in his letter to the church in Ephesus, described the relationship of Christians to the Church as follows. "You are no longer aliens, but fellow citizens and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, joined together as living stones."(Eph 2:19-21) These are solid words. Committed words. We are citizens. Members. Living Stones joined together. And it would be understandable for us to feel that if we took Paul's description seriously, it would result in an impeding of our freedom and a limiting of our options. A cramping of our style. But Paul sees the result of this solid commitment as exactly the opposite.
"..and in Him the building grows together and becomes a temple in whom God dwells by the Spirit."
In other words, Paul is saying that as we submit to being built up and joined together in committed community in a church, we experience the indwelling presence of God in a way that we could never experience if we remained in convenient isolation.
To return to the violin parable then, we find that as we allow Jesus to anchor, tighten and tune us into the violin of the church, instead of losing our individuality, we discover who and what we were designed to be. And we find that under the Master Craftsman's skilful hands, like a violin string, we are finally free to sing.