Using our freedom

March 25, 2020 · Print This Article

It was raining heavily – and I went outside, and stood in the garden in the rain; no coat, no umbrella – I just stood still, feeling the downpour. So why did I stand there? Firstly – because I could. I am old enough not to have a parent to tell me to come inside or to put my coat and wellies on. Also, I’m not yet old enough to be told by carers that I need to come in. Standing in the rain is a very cleansing feeling. It’s not a problem if you know you can soon change into dry clothing.

So I had the freedom to stand in the rain. In another situation, other people might have felt they had the responsibility to bring me inside. We are prevented, by law, or our own morality, from doing many things. But we also have the freedom to do many things. With that freedom often comes a certain weight of responsibility. I have the freedom to drive where I choose – with some obvious exceptions. With this freedom comes the responsibility to obey the rules of the road, designed to keep everyone safe. I have the freedom to say what I want but I have the responsibility to try and make sure that my words do not harm or hurt other people.

The need to consider the effect that our personal quest for freedom has on those around us is neatly summarised by a quote of uncertain origins that states, “Your liberty to swing your fist ends where my nose begins”. Drawing that line is sometimes not straightforward.

Every news bulletin has examples of people who have taken freedoms to themselves that have caused suffering to others. And there are many stories of people who have denied themselves freedoms to benefit others – they have provided some element of sacrifice. It could be someone confronting a violent criminal or a parent going without food so that their child can eat. Sacrifice is a choice, and exists on many levels. Giving one’s own life to benefit others is the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus Christ made this choice and he made the point to his followers that he had a way out that he was choosing not to take. They were ready to fight when he was being arrested by, “a great multitude with swords and clubs”.[1] He pointed out to them: “… do you think that I cannot now pray to my Father, and He will provide me with more that twelve legions of angels?”[2]

Jesus did not need to experience all that followed – the beating, the mockery, or the horror of the crucifixion. It was a choice made to pay the penalty of all sin. And that provides each one of us with a freedom from that penalty. But it also provides us with a responsibility to live according to the law that Paul, the author of the book of Romans, explains is, “summed up in this saying, Namely, You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.[3]

Paul points out that “love does no harm to a neighbour”.[4] I hope that the choices I make, and the freedoms I take to myself, do not harm my neighbours, and today – if it rains – you may find me, out there, standing in the rain.

Maggie Mitchell

Maggie is an editor at Because

[1] The Bible, Matthew 26:55

[2] Matthew 26:53

[3] Romans 13:9

[4] Romans 13:10

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