"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit."
~2 Corinthians 3:17-18
I'm reading through a short history of Western philosophy this summer: a primer really, but suprisingly detailed and very helpful. (Oh, and it has pictures. That's always a good thing.) I feel so ignorant in this area, and I want to know what people mean when they say "he's a Hegelian" or "that smacks of Kant." Never having taken a philosophy class, I have turned to independent study. It has worked, mostly.
Anyway...what does this have to do with 2 Corinthians? Well, one chapter in the book focuses on the influence of Eastern religion on a couple of Western philosophers, such as Schopenhauer. Essentially, most of those religions emphasize a loss of our identity, making it the goal of a truly virtuous or enlightened person. We (in Hinduism) are absorbed into the divine spirit of the cosmos or (in Buddhism) become free of all things, even existence itself. No more consciousness, no more independence. The most glorious end we can hope for is a type of annihilation.
Now compare that to the promise of Christ. We will see Him face to face. And that means that we'll still have faces to see Him with! This is where 2 Corinthians comes in. St. Paul says that we are being transformed into the image of Christ...not into Christ Himself. That's a key difference between Eastern and Western religion, and I suppose it lies at the root of our divergent views of the individual. For Westerners living in a Judeo-Christian culture, one person's soul is actually a precious treasure, something which will be eternally separate (not something which will just be absorbed into the cosmos anyway). So we pay attention to individuals. To their minds, their hearts, their actions.
In a Christian worldview, we don't become part of God: instead, we become reflections and imitations of Him, magnifying His glory all the more through our differences. It's like a chandelier with a lot of crystals and corners. The light gets refracted and reflected because of the various angles and thicknesses of the glass, more so than if it were to shine simply against one flat surface. In St. John's vision of heaven, he can distinguish individual people around God's throne, each bringing his unique tongue and mind and culture to praise the Lord. There's no "homogenizing process" at the pearly gates. And even here on earth, though together we comprise the body of Christ, Scripture carefully makes distinctions between members. We don't all become a foot or an eye. The differences between us are created by God Himself, and instead of being smoothed out and mashed together, it is individuals--with all their quirks and splits and varying interests--who are used for His purposes.
As C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, we become more "ourselves" as we submit to Christ, not less. That is, we become who we were truly created to be, holy and perfect, rather than sin-twisted caricatures. And that's why this 2 Corinthians passage refers to the Lord as the Spirit of freedom. Because He wants to bring liberty to His beloved children, he makes us into images of His Son. This process does not trample on our souls and minds; instead, it sets them free. There is more beauty and depth in Christ than we could ever see. Being made into His image, then, could not possibly be a restriction.
It's as if a horse who had lived in a dark, cramped stable all his life were suddenly unchained and turned out into an infinite world of excitement, beauty, and wonder. The stable was familiar, while the world outside was under the rule of some other master. Now, do you think the horse would complain just because that wonderful world belonged to someone else? Do you think he'd want to scuttle back into his stable, just because he preferred to be in control? I doubt it. To quote Lewis once more, I think he'd kick up his heels and run "further up and further in," becoming happier and freer the longer he ran. In the same way, in an odd irony, God requires us to submit in order to enjoy liberty. Yet He promises not to crush those who come to Him; instead, he picks us up, sets a crown on our head, and turns us to face the light of His own surpassing glory.