Sad to say, God’s given gift, our subjective freedom is often misunderstood by people. Freedom is not the power to do whatever you please, as if we possessed an absolute will, free of all restraints and free of all limitations. A freedom that is limitless? No way! In the end, it would self-destruct. Freedom means doing the right thing, and not just anything we want. It must be the right thing. This is a limitation imposed by objective morality upon our subjectivity.
Common sense tells us that personal freedom has limits. There is the inevitable and inescapable limit of our physical condition. Even if you desire to freely fly like a bird, you simply cannot. Your free will is not omnipotent. Some of us enjoyed watching Spiderman in the movies. He was free to roam the skyways, and was strong as a spider. But we know that it was all just a movie. It is not real.
So freedom is limited by our physical condition. And we cannot escape this limitation. If we force ourselves to do something beyond our physical capabilities, we will end up either dead, hurt, or disabled for life. If you force yourself to run faster that you are fit, you may end up with a torn tendon and limping till it heals. If you jump from a very high building, you will inevitably fall down and die because of a crushed skull.
Yet even if our freedom is limited in this physical manner, no one in his right mind thinks of rejecting his freedom and asking God to take it away from him, as if God had gypped him and gave him a freedom that is defective. If he cannot have a freedom without limits, then he thinks God should take it back. He thinks it would be better had he been a stone or a rock whose only “freedom” is to stay where it is. How sad and how childish such an attitude would be. It would even be a kind of madness to spurn freedom simply because it is limited by our physical condition.
Yet there is a worse kind of madness and those inflicted with it are not aware that they are mad. This is the madness that rejects the limitation imposed on our freedom by God’s moral norms. The most significant limitation to our freedom is not the physical type but rather the moral type, which is spiritual in nature. Though important and significant, this limitation is rejected by many sad to say.
There are some also who reject all moral norms. They think that following a moral law deprives us of our subjectivity and makes us slaves. It’s like being bound so tightly that we cannot move. We cannot do what we please. It is so tyrannical of God to make us free and then subject us to a moral law. Who is he trying to fool, they claim! This is a sad state of affairs, because God defined the moral norms so that we could be truly free and truly happy.
But this is the kind of madness, which is also a kind of blindness rooted in pride. God is never a tyrant. He is our loving Father. This is why he placed in all men a natural desire to be happy. And he gave us our own intellect to discover the real way that leads to that happiness. This path to happiness is the moral law rooted in human nature as God made it. But He gave us the wonderful gift of freedom, since he wants us to choose this way to happiness in a self-determined manner, simply because we want to. But this self-determination means that we could choose to do otherwise and refuse to follow the moral law, just to get the wrong kind of happiness he never meant for us. But we do not have to take the path that leads to death and sadness. Its always our choice to choose to do good.
So morality limits our subjective behavior. But it is a limitation that liberates. This is what is meant when by the passage, “the truth shall set you free.” It is the truth about human nature and the demands of the moral law that sets us free if we choose to live this truth. We must live the moral truth if we want to be truly happy. When we choose to reject the moral law and live lives contrary to God’s precepts, we end up enslaved. We become slaves to our pride, to our hatred, to our lusts, to food, sex and drink, to this material world. We become hopeless materialistic, we become addicted to sex, food, drink, comfort, etc.
We can only find a semblance of eternal happiness in pleasures of a spiritual kind. And the greatest spiritual pleasure is that you feel good when you do what is morally good. This is the pleasure that morality gives us. It is the pleasure of a virtuous and saintly life, in spite of our fragility and our failures. And when we die doing good, we find the everlasting pleasure in the life hereafter, the happiness that never ends which all men seek.
But people think that the moral law is a limitation they want to be free off. They claim that they should be allowed to drink us much as they want even if they get drunk and lose consciousness. That is their free choice. They claim that if a lie is useful to them, they should not be told by anyone that it is a sin nevertheless. They insist that if their girlfriend is willing, they should be allowed to have sex before marriage without anyone telling them that they are fornicating. They prefer to call it making love, since fornicating does not sound too good to their ears. They claim that if a woman gets pregnant and she does not want the child, she has the right to abort it, kill the child. And they want to be free not to call it murder but to innocently say that they are terminating a pregnancy. They do not want to be limited by moral law whatsoever.
But note that the limitation imposed by morality is not physical in nature. It is not a limitation that is like physical violence. On the contrary, it is a spiritual type of limitation. And since it is spiritual, it cannot be imposed violently upon us in a physical way. Objective moral values are spiritual in nature. They can only be self- imposed. You cannot force a person to do good. You cannot stop a person from doing evil, if he does not want to. We freely choose to follow God’s law, simply because we want to. And no power on earth or in heaven can stop us from wanting to do good and doing it effectively. Likewise, not even God can stop us from doing evil freely, since he gifted us with freedom and God will never take that gift away as long as we are alive. Enough on freedom. Whatever we say, whatever we understand, it will always remain a mystery. And with the mystery of freedom we will always encounter the mystery of sin.