How do you define ‘freedom’? In our secular, pluralistic society, freedom is a grossly misunderstood and misused concept. Freedom is now considered to be “the ‘right’ to do whatever you want to do”.
Is freedom the absence of restrictions? Anyone who believes this is ignoring all of life around them. A fish is ‘free’ to swim anywhere it wants. But it takes in oxygen only from the water. As soon as it leaves the restriction of a water habitat, it will die. The fish is restricted by its very nature. So it is with all things. Freedom therefore is necessarily limited by our very nature. Our concept of ‘freedom’ must account for the nature of things, and the restrictions imposed by those characteristics.
Within those restrictions, the fish is free to go here or there. However, if it swims into the path of a predator, it will likely die. So, it restricts its behavior to avoid certain dangers. This is a self-imposed restriction designed to prolong its life. Is it free to swim into the path of a predator? Yes, but is that freedom good for the fish? Not at all. The fish will follow self-imposed restrictions to its behavior to preserve its life.
This brings up the second misconception of freedom, that all freedom is good. Terrorists think they are ‘free’ to wreak havoc on anyone they decide to terrorize. Is that freedom ‘good’? The civilized world would answer an emphatic ‘no’. This truth applies to many human behaviors. Enron executives thought they were ‘free’ to set their own salaries and benefits, to the detriment of all their employees. Civilization depends upon certain restrictions to human behaviors to keep us from destroying ourselves. Indeed, all our laws are actually restrictions on human behavior. They are necessary to prevent total chaos, and ultimately our annihilation.
So if freedom is not the absence of restrictions, and if not all freedom is good for us, who then determines what restrictions are placed upon us, and who determines which freedoms are good or bad? Let’s take ‘freedom of religion’ for example. Society generally agrees that freedom of religion is a good thing. But how far does that freedom extend? When one person believes that a certain behavior is right, and another believes that same behavior is wrong, which belief wins at the point of confrontation? Who decides that, and upon what set of standards is that decision made?
Is there a universal set of standards by which all freedoms and restrictions should be established? The answer to that question should be blatantly obvious, even to those who reject the answer. The Ten Commandments are a universal set of restrictions placed upon human behavior that govern our freedom. The utopian society that the world longs for would become a reality if everyone adhered perfectly to those ten simple rules. So why has this set of standards been forcibly removed from our nation? If they are so beneficial to us, why have we tossed them out of our schools and government? What impact has this action had on our ‘freedom’? Are we more free without them, or are we in bondage to our propensity for greed and power?
Sadly, by removing those restrictions on our behavior, we are less free than we were when we lived by those rules.
Of course, I know the answer to the questions I have posed above. Our sinful nature would rather create our own set of rules to live by, rather than live by the rules given to us by our creator. And the rules we then establish are based upon our rejection of God’s authority over us. We try to manage our own behavior at the same time our nature is pushing us to pursue greed, power, and pride. We get so far away from God’s rules that we can no longer determine what is right or wrong, and we redefine what ‘freedom’ actually is.
Freedom, properly defined, requires a set of restrictions that enable us to care for and improve everyone and everything around us. We can be free to enjoy nature without damaging or destroying nature. We can be free to love and help people around us without bringing them harm in any way. We can be free to choose a vocation that benefits mankind and provides support to our family, without denying others that same freedom.
When the Bible talks about freedom, it is always talking about freedom from the slavery of sin. We are sinful creatures. We can’t help it, and we can’t stop it on our own. We are, in a very real sense, enslaved to sin. But through belief in Christ, we have been released from the penalty of sin, and are truly free from the slavery of sin. Freedom, therefore, is the inalienable right to do good! Freedom to do bad is nothing more than sin. And that is not freedom, it is slavery!