God created human beings in his own image and likeness. [Cf. Gen 1: 27] Human freedom can be said as originated from this moment of creation; when God imprinted his image and likeness on human beings. Being created in the image of the creator himself means the creature enjoys a freedom that is innate in him or her. This freedom is natural to human beings and therefore needs to be respected. Human freedom originated from God and is directed to the very same God. Since God created human beings in freedom, the right to exercise this freedom is inalienable part of his/her life. This freedom is undoubtedly one that is carried on in the believers in God to this day. This Christian understanding of freedom is a lot different from the secular understanding of freedom. When we speak of freedom, it is freedom that God gives us in Christ Jesus. For the world, freedom is the capacity of an individual to fulfill his or her likes and dislikes. It does not necessarily bind one by obligations towards the other. If I respect the other’s right, it is like my generosity towards that person. But Christian understating of freedom is much deeper and experiential to the believers.
Freedom Gives Us Options
The word freedom opens the dimensions of human choice; the option to do or not to; and the option to do the right or wrong. This exercise of one’s freedom helps him/her to grow into the likeness of God. The repeated exercise of choosing and doing good helps the individual to become freer in his/her inner most being which is the image of God himself. This freedom to choose is not doing wrong blindfolded, rather seeing the good of the other and choosing the right. Human being is free to choose to do good. St. John Paul II defined it this way, ‘freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.’ In this regard, human freedom is not to be defined and understood keeping an individual in mind, but rather, keeping the whole in mind, the universality of individuals. My freedom is curtailed by the right of the other and vica versa.
Catechism of the Catholic church puts it beautifully, ‘freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility’ (1731). The freedom instilled in the human beings needs to be used with responsibility. When I am free to do something the other has also the right to something. These two – my freedom and his/her right – should not have a clash. God gave freedom to human beings, and the use of that freedom should be in line with the will of God. Will of God will always be all inclusive and aiming the well being of the whole human race. When exercised in this perspective, the freedom instilled in us becomes efficacious.
When Human Freedom Fails, Sin Occurs
As against the divine freedom human freedom is not absolute. It is limited and can fail at any moment. Therefore, it demands great responsibility from the fragile human beings to safeguard their freedom and to take care of the after effects. Human beings from the beginning, failed to exercise their freedom responsibly and they sinned. Sin is the failure to exercise the God given freedom responsibly. Human beings who are created as free beings, by their own failure became slaves to sin. Sin entered into the earth when Adam and Eve misused the freedom that was their privilege. Any gift of God used wrongly is a sin committed; a sin that can be against God or sometimes against our fellow human beings.
St. Paul in his letter to the Romans writes that some people become slave to sin when they act in ways they know are evil. I can very well act as I like because it is after all, my life. But this argument is not long standing. Before I act, I need to make sure that the action that I am going to perform would not be a hindrance to my fellow human beings. Even after knowing well that my action would bring loss to my brother, would cause grief to my sister, when I go on to choose my freedom it becomes the violation of the others’ right to live. By doing that act I am committing sin. Respecting the freedom of the other is a very good means to stay away from sinful ways.
Human Freedom Violated Is the Divine Image Desecrated
John Steward saw freedom as doing anything that one desires. But doing anything one likes will not only bring harm to the society but also to himself and his family. God who created human beings, created them in ultimate freedom. This freedom which God exercised, he instilled in his creatures as well. Therefore, it is natural that the human beings respect the freedom of each other; primarily because all are created in the divine image and secondarily because each human being has the freedom to live his or her image, the image of God. When one violates the freedom God has given to the other as like to him, he is going against the Lord, he is committing a sin.
Jesus came to set us free, to break the chains of slavery that tied us to mere human frailties. He accomplished this by his death on the cross. He nailed the Satan to the foot of his own cross so that human beings can breathe the air of freedom. When we understand this fact that the Lord came to free us from the clutches of all that were binding us, it is very easy to understand that freedom has a central point in Catholicism. Our faith does not constrain our freedom rather, it liberates us. St. Paul says in Galatians 5:1 “Qua libertate nos Christus liberavit” (For freedom of Christ has set us free). The Catholic understanding of freedom can be seen as gaining a new height in Christ. The original freedom that human beings enjoyed at creation is made again real and experiential in Christ Jesus, the Son of God. The freedom that the church speaks about is this freedom that a believer experiences in Christ. This freedom that the believer has received from Jesus is one that lasts till the last breath. No force on earth can hinder a believer from exercising his/her freedom.
Freedom is that state of life, which every human being dreams to attain. God has given this freedom to all who believe in him. It is a free gift. Human beings misused this freedom by committing sin. Then God promised his son, Jesus to be sent to the world to retrieve the human being to their lost freedom. Today, a believer in Christ experiences this freedom when s/he gets to know the real Jesus, be with him, experience him and own him up. It is to this state of freedom that we need to grow, where we know Christ, we love him, and we have experienced him and more than all that we own him up. Let the freedom that Christ offers us be a driving force in us to live true Christian life, for Christus nos liberavit; Christ has freed us!
Fr. Rajesh Puthussery