Free will. Freedom. The ability to make choices for oneself. Without a doubt, freedom is something our Creator intends for every human being. Freedom is a gift from God. Throughout scripture, story after story gets at the importance of freedom and how it is used.
Near the very beginning of the Bible in Genesis chapter 2 we find the story of Adam and Eve. Here is a brief excerpt. “The Lord commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’…”
The story highlights some fundamental things to ponder. Freedom is God given. Freedom has been given to human beings since inception. While God gave Adam and Eve freedom, God asked that they not do one thing, which was to eat from the tree of knowledge. Notice that God did not limit their freedom. God did not take choices away, even bad ones. Their freedom remained. Yet as we know, Adam and Eve used their freedom and made a very poor decision.
In our culture we hear much dialogue about freedom. To be clear, God is the source of our freedom and it is essential. It is part of our faith and fundamental to America and it must be preserved. But if we look at the life of Jesus, Jesus did not spend his life teaching and preaching about the virtues of freedom. Rather, in story after story Jesus taught about our responsibilities. That is, what our freedom obligates us to do, which is to always and without exception, consider the needs of the other and the welfare of others as a whole.
Jesus never taught, do whatever you want, do what is best for you, put your rights ahead of other people, your individual liberties are what matter the most. There is not one story to be found in the Gospels in which Jesus taught any such things. Quite the opposite in fact.
Here are just some excerpts from a variety of stories. Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love your enemies. Be careful what you treasure the most. Do something for people who are hurting even when it is not convenient or it is your day off. If you want to hang onto your life for your own sake, you will lose it, but if you give up your life for my sake you will find it.”
“Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant to everyone else. Bless those who curse you. Do not judge others. Do not condemn others. Forgive others. I am the vine, you are the branches. Apart from me you can do nothing. If you are kind only to your friends you are no different from anyone else.”
Countless other stories and teachings reflect the same key point. We are not to live for ourselves but for God and others.
In my view, sometimes we get confused thinking that freedom is what is most important and that it is the end, not the means. Jesus taught that freedom is the means not the end. Freedom is the means, the tool if you will, by which we can faithfully follow Jesus, albeit imperfectly. Love cannot happen without freedom and so freedom is the means to the end goal of love.
Freedom is the means to put others first. Freedom is the means to consider the welfare of the other and of all. Freedom is the means by which we can choose to live for God. Freedom is the means through which we choose to keep commitments and treat all human beings as God does.
Jesus was crystal clear as we have talked about over the years at the Chapel. Loving God and loving others is the point of life and what it means to follow Jesus. Freedom enables us to love in such a way, with God’s help.
It is my hope and prayer that over time we will learn, not only as followers of Jesus but as citizens of our great land, to shift our dialogue from freedom as the end all and be all to the obligations our God given freedom creates. Obligations need to be the focus of our discussions, not freedom, while embracing the truth that freedom is from God and must be protected.