Freedom and the Christian Some Thoughts
Mr. M. P. K. Kutty
When the Lord God put the first man in the Garden of Eden to work and forbade him from eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we do not know what went on in the mind of Adam. How did he react to the restriction imposed by the Creator? Or how did Eve welcome the limit set to their freedom in the Garden?
We learn subsequently that she was willing to listen to the serpent (Satan) and believe him. The rest is history.That chapter in the Genesis account which deals with man's temptation and Fall provide the basis for all that follows in that Book.
Man's original sin as some say, is rebellion against God or wanting to do everything his own way. In short, man was seeking complete freedom. "There are two freedoms - the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought.," wrote Charles Kingsley.
Man's dignity arises from the fact that he is a free being and not a robot. God gave him the freedom of choice. Man's Fall, however, should make him less competent to exercise his freedom wisely. In his free state, there is a possibility that it might be used in ways that are destructive.
The human heart, concludes the scriptures, is desperatively wicked. “For from within, out of men’s hearts , come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder adultery,greed, malice,deceit, lewdness,envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man unclean.” (Mark 7:21)
That being his nature, can he be trusted to exercise his freedom with responsibility? Can such men living together create a society that is peaceful and just?
Man is selfish and therefore more inclined to his own profit ; he is greedy and hence will like to gain at others’ expense…all these qualities render him unfit to be a member of a community.
The Christian faith promises to create a new man ( 2 Corinth 5:17). The teachings of Jesus is all about creating this new man , who will, on his own, live in obedience to God , turning from his old ways and attitudes.
Man, in his old nature, is limited in his wisdom. If only the prodigal son knew what fate awaited him when he went to a foreign land to enjoy complete freedom, he wouldn’t have dared to choose that perilous path. When the Holy Spirit, in keeping with the Word of God, delinks man from the old nature, his old nature stands suspended.
In his new nature, created in true righteousness, man will no longer be inclined to follow old ways. He will be governed by “love for God and fellow beings.”
Until Christ comes to live within, a man is incapable of being truly righteous. This is the very reason why man can not lead a moral or good life apart from God.
God loves righteousness. Righteousness and justice are the foundations of His throne.(Psalm 89:14) The unregenerate man also loves goodness; he loves righteousness. His ‘righteousness’ however, is like ‘filthy rags’ says the Bible. Quite understandable. Each man’s righteousness is tutored by his self. That is why man has an infinite capacity for self righteousness.
For an illustration, let us take conflicts that have a religious nature. The Muslim, the Hindu and the Christian must all be wanting righteousness in society. Then why are there conflicts in a pluralistic society where men want to live in peace? The simple truth is religious creeds promote different levels or types of righteousness! And they are not able to come to a mutually agreeable righteousness.
True righteousness is the issue. God takes the initiative to shape that man, surrendered to him, “ in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4: 24)
And it is only the new man who is able to restrain his baser instincts and thus become capable of self government. Self- government is a necessary virtue in an individual if he is to be a useful member of a society. In fact, a good society is possible only when individuals constituting it are capable of self-government. When men bid goodbye to discipline and start doing what each thinks is right, it is a prescription for chaos.
There is a verse in the Book of Judges (21:25) which says: “Everyman did that which was right in his own eyes.” ‘In those days there was no king in Israel and each man was a law unto himself.
Today’s generation is marked by a desire to defy the issue of right and wrong to do their own thing. “What right have you to dictate what is right?” –that is the question directed towards all authority. Each one would like to follow his own desire. This moral relativism is causing all the problems in our times.
The consequences are for everyone to see. The lines between good and evil are erased. Anything goes.Those who are living in sin even take the stage to advocate tolerance!
Lawlessness and rebellion mark our times. The established rules of behaviour are being thrown to the winds even in socalled Christian nations like the United States. The demand for more and more freedom for individuals almost borders on moral absurdity. Also in the name of secularism in the United States, prayers were banned from schools. This atheistic campaign to remove God from every area of human endeavour seems to be succeeding there leading to erosion of morality and Christian values.
Prisons in the US and elsewhere today are overflowing with criminals; marriages are breaking up and families are being destroyed by promiscuity; unwed mothers and unloved children become a blot on society; psychiatric illnesses would seem to indicate that society has lost its moorings.
Those who have lived through the sixties can recall the chaotic conditions that prevailed in France, US and other western nations in the wake of student protests, anti-Vietnam protests, women’s liberation movements, violent strule for rights by trade unions and other organised sections. They provide an inkling as to what will happen when everyone is fighting for own rights to the detriment of common good.
Not long ago the US witnessed more fights for freedom from norms: the declaration of war by pro-abortion groups, gays and lesbians—amounting to the demand for a new morality to do one’s own thing , unrestrained by any other considerations. The recession and its aftermath that sunk the US into a gloom can also be described as an outcome of man’s ‘uncontrolled greed.’ An example of unlimited freedom for some ending up in the ruin of the many.
Nearer home, we have more examples of unjust agitations for more and more rights by powerful groups in the political and economic spheres causing havoc with the economy. Those advancing trade union rights made sure the destruction of agriculture and industry.Labour and Capital are partners in the process of development and if each clamours for freedom to do what each likes irrespective of the consequences, then the interests of both will suffer damage.
Man is created to be a social animal. Cooperation and not competition will ensure the maximum good of society. Even sociologists recognise the need for a ‘give and take’ attitude. Albert Einstein, the Nobel laureate, used to affirm that only a life lived for others is worth living. This is a call for a spirit of sacrifice so that the common good could be promoted.
And Christ expressed the same principle in a more fundamental manner when he declared: “ Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”(Matthew 16:26) There is what is known as the ‘gaining through losing principle.’ When the individual sacrifices a little of his rights, the society gains much. Christ came to serve. He came to liberate those who are under the slavery of sin. He came to set men free.
Christianity promises to make men free; it never promises to make them independent. All men are created in God's image; but the privelege of taking on His nature and living His life is granted only to those who through great love have brought their own freedom into subjection to God.
However, the gospel throughout history has brought freedom to more slaves than any human philosophy, movement, or political system. In past times, some Christians, unfortunately, have supported and tried to justify slavery. But the Bible does not; and where Christians are faithful to Scripture, slavery cannot flourish, wrote Christian author, John MacArthur.
The Christian is to follow the Master. And it is not his aim to be the Number One… He is to ensure others’ freedom and well being. He is to fight for the rights of the oppressed and the weak. He is to give a voice to the voiceless.
St Francis of Assissi , in his famous prayer, puts it beautifully: “O Master, let me not seek so much to be consoled as to console; not so much to be loved as to love; not so much to be understood as to understand; for it is in giving that one received; it is in self-forgetfulness that one finds; it is in pardoning that one is pardoned; it is in dying that one finds eternal life.”
The world of men out there is competing for the best position, for all privileges; they stoop to conquer. Christ told His disciples: “It shall not be so among you” (Matthew 20:26) And He gave them a set of rules that apparantly ran counter to the world’s system. And a bunch of illiterate disciples powered by the Holy Spirit went about preaching those principles of loving and serving. They turned the world upside down. A fact admitted by emperors like Napoleon.
An American educator , F Wayland (1796-1865) wrote as follows as to the influence of those rules: “That the truths of the Bible have the power of awakening an intense moral feeling in man under every variety of character, learned or ignorant, civilized or savage; that they make bad men good and send a pulse of healthful feelin through all the domestic, civil and social relations; that they teach men to love right, to hate wrong, and to seek each other's welfare as children of a common parent…”
“… that they control the baleful passions of the heart and thus make men proficient in self-government; and finally that they teach man to aspire after conformity to a being of infinite holiness, and fill him with hopes more purifying, exalted, and suited to nature than any other book the world has ever known—these are facts, as incontrovertible as the laws of philosophy, or the demonstrations of mathematics. Evidence in support of all this can be brought from every age in the history of man, since there has been a revelation from God on earth. We see the proof of it everywhere around us.”
As the late Malcolm Muggeridge testified: “ I have found nothing other than this man and His words which offers any answer to the dilemmas of this tragic , troubled time.”