A Commitment to Individual Freedom

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work and take care of it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it, you will surely die.’….

 Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’  The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’

 So the Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals!  You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.   And I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’

 -          Genesis 2:15-17 and 3:14-15

 “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”

 -          Deuteronomy 30:19

  “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”

 -          Joshua 24:15

 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

 -          Jeremiah 29:11

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 -          Luke 4:18-19 (quoted by Jesus from Isaiah 61:1-2)

 “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

 -          John 1:11-12

 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

 -          John 10:10 (in this passage, Jesus is speaking about himself and his purpose)

 “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

 -          John 15:13

 “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

 -           2 Corinthians 3:17

 “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

 -          2 Corinthians 9:7

  “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

 -          Galatians 5:1

“Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”

 -          Revelation 3:20

 “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”          

 -          Patrick Henry, 1775

One of the most consistent themes of the Jewish and Christian scriptures (from Genesis all the way to Revelation) is that God allows all of humanity the freedom to choose between good and evil, and even between life and death.  The scriptures also intend that this concept of free choice should apply to many other decisions less important than life and death, including how much aid we should give to others in need (see 2 Corinthians 9:1-7.)   Although God passionately wants us to choose what is good, so that we may enjoy the abundant life He has planned for us, He does not interfere with our power to choose.

When the Garden of Eden was in its original, unspoiled state (in Genesis 2), man knew only good (eternal life, in intimate fellowship with God, in a peaceful, abundant garden.)  However, because God wanted us to love Him (which requires moral choice), rather than just slavishly obey Him, He left Adam and Eve one moral choice, which was to eat or not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  In other words, as long as Adam and Eve were willing to trust that God was acting for their good, and leave the knowledge of evil in His hands, they were free to continue knowing only good, and to enjoy paradise in the garden.

And God set things up this way despite knowing the severe consequences that would eventually follow:  that the frailty of human nature would eventually cause Adam and Eve to want to know both good and evil for themselves, leading to the rapid deterioration of even the earliest society that is recorded in Genesis chapters 4-6, and ultimately to the continual battle between good and evil that we see in the world today.

Christian teaching says that God’s cursing of the serpent in Genesis 3:15 foreshadows the coming of Christ.  (Christ’s heel was ‘bruised’ in the process of crucifixion, but He crushed the serpent’s head – Satan – by paying the penalty a just God demanded for all of humanity’s sins.)  Therefore, from a Christian perspective, one can say that God valued human freedom so highly that He sent His Son to die on the cross to preserve it.

And if God values our freedom so highly, what authority does any human government have to take it away?

This is the moral and spiritual basis for saying that liberty is an “inalienable” right.

As Patrick Henry’s “give me liberty or give me death” speech makes clear, the founding fathers put the same high value on liberty that is found in the scriptures, understanding that there are times when liberty should be valued even above life itself.  In the Judeo-Christian moral tradition, the only thing that is valued higher than liberty is love (and love actually includes the concept of liberty, since true love requires free moral choice.)   In saying “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends,” Jesus made it clear that the highest expression of love is for one person to give up their life in order to defend the life and liberty of others.   This is the spirit in which many of the men and women in America’s armed services continue to serve today.

It is important to note, however, that in giving us extensive freedom to make moral choices, God does not for a moment pretend that all moral choices are equally valid or equally meritorious.  Although, in His mercy, He will often rescue us from the consequences of bad moral choices once we have confessed our error and turned back to Him, He will rarely completely shield us from the consequences of our bad choices.  This is why the scripture warns us:

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”  (Deuteronomy 30:19)

 Another important characteristic of love is that, since love is a moral choice that must be made freely, and cannot be compelled, saying that love is the supreme virtue also implies a strong commitment to individual freedom.  In other words, a strong commitment to individual freedom is part of the very foundation of Judeo-Christian morality.  This is the fundamental reason why the societies that were either explicitly founded on the Judeo-Christian worldview (America[1] and Israel), or have been heavily influenced by the Judeo-Christian worldview (Europe) have generally tended to be freer and more prosperous than the rest of the world, and also to have a cultural and spiritual influence on the world that is disproportionate to their population.

[1] My answer to the question of whether America is “a Christian nation” is that I believe America was founded on Judeo-Christian moral principles, by men who were primarily Christians and Deists.  Thus, although America’s founding assumptions are not exclusively Christian, the Judeo-Christian worldview is a very important part of our founding assumptions.  Both the many parallels between the Bible and the Declaration of Independence, and the strong influence of the Judeo-Christian worldview on our spiritual heritage in general (each of which are discussed in detail in separate sections of this site) make that very clear.

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