The sizzle of brats and burgers, the cold ice covering your beverage of choice just waiting for you to crack it open, the sound of fireworks, all trademarks of the Fourth of July; but of course, the strongest attribute is the celebration of freedom that we enjoy in The United States of America. This tends to prompt the age-old question, what is freedom?
To answer that, imagine we are in the Garden of Eden on Day 6 of Creation. Think about what it would be like to walk with Adam, to talk with him, to figure out what it means to be a human person with him. We hear in Genesis that God created this lush garden for the first human person, Adam, to enjoy. He must have been amazed by the goodness of God and the splendor of his creative power. As Adam was discovering who he was, in this beautiful paradise (with Eve’s help of course), he also realizes through God’s prompting some important aspects of the human person.
Genesis 2 explains, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’”
John Paul II reflects on this verse in Theology of the Body. He makes the point that it’s hard to tell what Adam would have thought in hearing this warning from God, because he had no concept of death; he had not experienced it. However, it did show Adam two things: that God was superior because he had authority over him, and that he had freedom either to obey, or not. This leads to the question that keeps philosophers busy; Why did God allow freedom if he knew we were going to fall? Ultimately, he gave us freedom because he loves us and wants us to freely love him in return. But that necessarily means that the very freedom that is required for authentic love, also allows for rejection.
Currently, our culture tends to think of freedom as doing whatever we want, whenever we want, in whatever way that we want; a “freedom from” restrictions rather than a “freedom for” love. This was the mistake Adam and Eve made as well. Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete said it best when he observed that, “The only temptation we face on this earth is the temptation to believe that God does not want to fill the deepest desires of our hearts.” Adam and Eve believed that God was holding out and that their will was better. So, they allowed their freedom, which was meant to bring them closer into relationship with God, to turn them away from him and toward death.
Now, let’s fast forward out of the echoes of Eden to the present day. We still misuse this God-given freedom to turn our backs on him. John Paul II recognized that, in the beginning, before the fall, this was not God’s will, proclaiming, “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” This sounds counterintuitive in our modern era; for freedom to be doing what we “ought,” but think about it. When we live in accordance with God’s order, design and purpose, we are most fulfilled. When a dog obeys his owner, he is man’s best friend. When a child obeys their parents, they are joyful and protected. And so it goes, within his created order, when we obey God, we are living to our fullest potential.
Contrast that with the fact that every time we sin, it is easier and easier to form harmful habits and become enslaved to that sin, even addicted. That’s when evil makes us less and less of who we were created to be. Therefore, the question for us this month, as we celebrate The Fourth of July is, how are we going to use our freedom? Do we want slavery, or do we want fulfillment? Don’t let this be an empty question that slides off the screen. Take 30 seconds right now and ask yourself how you can live in true freedom this month, and then next month and the next (virtue can become habit too, you know). Then pray to be open to receiving the grace God is offering to you. From all of us here at Ruah Woods Press, God bless!
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