Comfort & Counsel

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by Jacob Ninan

Charlie Hebdo, a French weekly magazine (hebdo means weekly), was in the news recently when two armed men walked into its office and shot 12 people dead. This magazine, which was known for its satire aimed at religion, politics and culture, was attacked apparently for publishing a cartoon of the Islamic prophet Mohammed. Many people protested worldwide against this attack, using the phrase Je suis Charlie (meaning ‘I am Charlie’) to denote their stand for freedom of speech. But it also rekindled another debate on what freedom meant and if it had any limits. Can one man’s freedom of expression ignore another man’s sensitivities? Should one man’s freedom be affected by another man’s opinions?

Personal freedom is certainly not without limits. For one thing, we are simply unable to do whatever we like because we are hindered by limitations of our own abilities. Many times, we are also hindered by other people and circumstances.

Another thing, as someone said, is that even when we are free to choose what to say or do, we are not free to choose the consequences. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Gal.6:7). “We have in our hands the most potent weapon God has ever given man—freedom of speech. But with this great freedom must go a strong sense of responsibility for what we say,” said Billy Graham. Freedom, whether it is about speech or action, is not absolute freedom. We must recognise its boundaries, how it is affected by boundaries around us and how it impinges on boundaries of other people or situations. Our freedom cannot be directed merely to gain our own interests, but must also be held in check to make sure that others are either happy with it, or at least that it will be tolerable for them. And, of course, the exercise of our freedom must be within the limits that are pleasing to God.

But what we find in the present times is that there is an increasing emphasis on personal freedom, as if it is unquestionable, or it is the only factor that one has to ultimately consider. It is based on this premise that women choose to abort their babies, homosexuals continue with their behaviour, marriage is redefined, divorce rates are shooting up, etc. The declension in this direction has become very rapid in the recent times, indicating our nearness to the end of this world.

When God created man and woman in His image, with an ability to choose their own course of action, He knew He was taking a big risk that they would misuse this freedom. “Without free will, man would not be created ‘in the image of God’. With it, he has the power to defy God's wishes and to bring misery on himself and others” (C. S. Lewis). God knew the danger, and that is why He had chalked out the story of the cross even before the foundation of the earth (Rev.13:8).

The only restriction God laid out for Adam and Eve with respect to their freedom in the Garden of Eden was that they should not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They could not reconcile with that restriction. Satan made them believe that this restriction was not in their interest, and that they stood to gain their ‘real’ freedom—to enjoy the fruit and to become like God with their own knowledge of good and evil—if they chose to step out of its restrictions.

We must not forget the fact that they had the freedom to eat from the tree of life, which they ignored. We can imagine that if they had chosen to abide by God-given restrictions on their freedom and chosen to eat from the tree of life, they would have been able to live forever most happily within the boundaries set by God. By choosing to throw off boundaries to their freedom, they became slaves to limitations and distortions of every kind.

Once they had disobeyed God and chosen to live independently of Him, He had to throw them out of the Garden, lest they ate from the tree of life in their present condition!

It is common sense to realise that the do’s and don’ts God gives us are for our very best; the don’ts protect us from getting into harm’s way and getting hurt, and the do’s show us the way to greater happiness and satisfaction of life. Satan wants us to think that these do’s and don’ts are restrictions to our freedom, and that if only we would throw away these restrictions we would find the way to greater enjoyment of life. But facts prove the contrary. If we sow to the flesh, we cannot in any way prevent the corruption that will come our way subsequently. We just have to look around and see how this is being played out in innumerable lives, and perhaps we are ourselves smarting from the hurts we have caused ourselves from the wrong choices of the past.

Some restrictions on our freedom are for the good of others. Romans 14 talks about not doing things that might cause others to stumble or show contempt for others. “Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil” (v.16). To flaunt our freedom in total inconsideration of others can hardly be called Christ-like in the face of the One who even laid down His life for the others.

Real freedom comes only from Jesus. “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn.8:36 emphasis added). This freedom is within the boundaries God sets for us, through His written word and through the reminders of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts (Isa.30:21). If we listen to God and say ‘no’ to whatever He says ‘no’ to, we will keep out of a lot of hurts, and if we say ‘yes’ to whatever He says ‘yes’ to we can get to enjoy our life more and more. This is a daily choice we need to make, and then our freedom will be greatly superior to the freedom people are clamouring after. It will be seen in the course of time where their ‘freedom’ has led them to and where ours has.

What is happening in the world today is that, prompted by Satan, large numbers of people are running towards what they believe will give greater freedom, not realising that they will actually be getting into greater bondages, getting themselves tied into more and more knots that will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to untangle later on. Taking up activist positions, many are pushing for removal of legal restrictions that hinder their run, and courts are taking up what they consider to be the ‘safe’ approach of saying that they have no jurisdiction on individual choices. Giving in to this pressure and bowing to popular opinion, different churches are choosing to override the Bible and accept the ‘prevailing social norms’.

When the people of Ireland chose to sanction same sex marriage by a public vote, in one sense there was dismay from many quarters, but, on the other hand, this development was only to be expected as the natural result of the trend that has overtaken the world. The reaction from the church was rather muted, and surprisingly it was a self-declared ‘gay’ atheist who rebuked the church for not taking a stand, in an article in The Spectator entitled, “As a gay atheist, I want to see the church oppose same-sex marriage.” The US followed very soon when their Supreme Court decided that the states had no right to ban same sex marriages.

Very few dare to speak against public opinion, and as a result, very few are raising their voices against the apostasy that is beginning to dominate many churches. Words of correction or rebuke are hardly heard from the pulpit because people like to hear soothing words that tell them that everything is going to be all right. Let those who know the Lord pray (2Chr.7:14,15), stand for God’s truth, and speak God’s words. Perhaps seeing the fast rate of apostasy will cause some faithful ones to wake up and take a stand for the truth. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal.5:1).

-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, August 2015

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