Freedom Is Good, Even Though It Can Be Abused

Freedom Is Good, Even Though It Can Be Abused June 9, 2024

Dave Linscheid: Breaking Chains / flickr

Humanity was made for greatness; sadly, we find ourselves far from it. We have gone astray. We have and continue to act in ways which hinder our potential. We have not learned from our mistakes, as we continue to act in ways which further impede our greatness, sometimes creating bad habits which, once we realize what we have done, make it difficult for us to change our ways. While we have free will, the freedom we have been given is limited, not absolute, and we can hinder it more by what we do. If, for example, we drink too much alcohol, we can find ourselves becoming addicted to it, and that addiction then takes over our lives, causing us all kinds of difficulties for us to overcome.  Thus, as St. Cyril of Alexandria indicated, humanity was created with a great amount of freedom, a freedom which we could have used to make ourselves better, but instead, we did the opposite, making ourselves worse off; now, without  help, we cannot attain the greatness we were meant to achieve with our lives:

In the beginning man was made with control over his own will and with a disposition that was free to do whatever he chose, for the Deity, in whose likeness he was formed, is free. In no other way than this, it seems to me, could he obtain an excellent estate – if he was seen to be a willing doer of virtuous deeds, resolved to be fruitful, being pure in his actions, not performed as the product of natural compunction, by no means allowing himself to be drawn away from that which was good, even if he had the desire to do that which was not so.[1]

Freedom is a good, even if it can be and has been abused: just because something can be abused does not mean, in and of itself, it is something to be repudiated and rejected. There are many things which are good, which can be and are abused, but which we would be worse off if we did not have them. When something has the potential for great abuse, it is because it has a great potential in it, and how that potential is used will determine if it is abused or used justly. Our free will was given to us so that we could creatively engage the greater good, so that through it, not only will we be able to be great, greater than we were born, but also so that we can leave a legacy of our own. We are meant to make the world around us a better place.

We have not entirely lost our freedom, as we have not entirely lost the natural good given to us by God. Our will has not been fully corrupted. We still wish for and embrace much which is good, even if we often do so in an inordinate fashion. We never fully lose our goodness, nor the ability to make choices for ourselves, choices which allow us to become self-transcendent, even if the conditions we have created for ourselves have limited those choices. We can continue to use our freedom poorly, and in doing so, further hinder and undermine ourselves. Slowly, we will become aware of what we have lost due to our actions. But, to be sure, much of what we lose does not have to be permanent. We can struggle to make things better. We can still pursue that which is good, and in doing so, create good habits which counteract the bad ones we have made. In this fashion, we die to the self we have made, a necessary precondition for us to achieve some level of self-transcendence, and through such self-transcendence. We cannot completely fix ourselves; we can only make ourselves better. To become what we would have been without the corruption of sin requires grace, grace which we receive through Jesus. “Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2 RSV). Such grace allows us not only to attain the “noble estate” we were intended to have, but to have continuous growth in eternity, so that we not only become better, but we find ourselves becoming deified, transcending our original condition as we participate in and experience the divine life through that grace.

When the power and destruction of sin was at its greatest, Jesus let sin do its worst, not just to us, but upon himself, so that in and through him, sin would be overcome: “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5:6 RSV). We were said to be ungodly due to the way we have abused our freedom to disconnect ourselves from our union with God. Without God and God’s grace giving us infinite potential, we found ourselves limited to what we can do, and it is in this way, we can be said to have become weak. But God became one of us, God became the man Christ-Jesus, so that humanity, and the whole of creation, could in and through him, find itself redirected to God, to once again be united with God, and attain the glory God intended for it. We are still given freedom, including the freedom to accept our connection with God through Christ; as long as we deny it,  as long as we look only inward towards ourselves, cutting ourselves off from all that lies beyond ourselves, we will continue to find ourselves in decline, becoming weaker and weaker, but when we open ourselves to our unity with God through Christ, we will find ourselves casting aside all forms of servitude, all the bad habits we have created which would prevent us from living out our lives in the way God wants us to live it. We cannot serve God, the Lord of all, the God who is Love, by serving ourselves, or anything else, above God. Thus, Jesus told us, if we are to follow him, we must cast aside our servitude to the fallen world and its mode of being, including its economics, that is, Mammon: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24 RSV).

We should not become attached to ourselves in our fallen mode of being, nor the world as we experience and perceive it through that modality, seeking only the apparent good at the expense of the greater good. Rather, we should die to that way of being, die to the self which is constructed by that modality, so that we accept our interdependence with others and our need to open ourselves up to God through Christ. If we do so, we will find that God, the source and foundation of every good, will provide us all the good which we need: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matt. 6:23 RSV). In this fashion, we should seek to live out the reality of our connection with the kingdom of God; the more we do so, the more we will discern the kingdom of God in all things, showing how all things, in their right mode of being, not only are good but reveal to us and speak to us the truth of God. So long as we remain attached to them as we perceive of them as distinct from the kingdom of God, and try to attain them in that fashion, we  will further detach ourselves from God, but once we realize how all things truly interconnect, how all things can and should point to and help us experience the reality of the kingdom of God, we can and will have a new way of being, one which will grant us more and more freedom as we accept the transcendent potential being given to us through Christ.

[1] St. Cyril of Alexandria, Glaphyra on the Pentateuch, Volume 1: Genesis. Trans. Nicholas P. Lunn (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2018), 59.


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