Human Freedom

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What does it mean to be free? We value nothing more in our culture: ‘live free or die’! Yet we also imagine various ways in which we are anything but free: our genes, our families of origin, economic forces, etc. We think of freedom as room I must win, as autonomy I must wrest from others. Freedom is our prime cultural goal and our problem.

Christianity agrees the the human is made for freedom; in fact it contributed historically to this very goal. Jesus tells us that the truth will set us truly free (John 8:36), but the truth spoken of here is not only in our minds, since the ‘good I would do I do not do.’ (Romans 7:19). It involves the freeing of our wills from bondage, distortion, fear, and guilt. Without this, what we imagine to be freedom is really the limited power to choose between forms of moral and spiritual slavery.

Trusting obedience to God then is not the opposite of freedom, but its condition, nor does it diminish our dignity, but rather enables our flourishing. 

Google the poem, Stations on the Road to Freedom, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.



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God calls His people, and in doing so He creates them as a people and gives them a purpose. This choice, not just for their advantage but for His purpose for creation, is what we mean by ‘election.’ However this does include His gift of salvation to the faithful.

Think of it this way. On the one hand we cannot save ourselves. On the other, what He wills come to pass. As a result we can say that it is only by God’s election that we come to be saved. This does not mean we don’t have a role, which God also gives to us. This also opens the question of election to eternal loss - here too it is God who allows us to be left to our own devices. The important emphasis is on His loving purpose for His creatures. These questions provide the bridge to matters having to do with the human person and the Christian life.

It is often helpful to remind ourselves what is not being said. Grace says we don’t have the power to save ourselves, nor are we partners with God in the effort. This is a core message of Paul, reiterated famously in the early 5th century by St. Augustine in his writings against the British monk Pelagius. Secondly God has the power to oversee history, including our beginnings and our end. (But as we have already said about His grace and our freedom, He has the power to work in and through our broken selves as well as upon us. Election displays how His agency is greater than ours in just this way).


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