Is This Freedom?
DO YOU want to be free? Likely you do. Indeed, every sane person wants to be free.
Freedom is a most desirable condition for man. This means the freedom really to enjoy life.
Does freedom exist in this world? Many persons would say that there are quite a few lands where people have freedom. Especially in the Western world are there countries where the people generally have their liberties protected by law.
Freedom at Home, on Streets?
However, if you live in one of these lands commonly regarded as free, ask yourself: Do you feel free to walk down any street at night? Do you feel free to enjoy any park after dark? Do you feel free to leave the doors and windows of your home unlocked?
Even in the most democratic lands, large segments of the population are fearful of walking down dark streets. They avoid parks at night. They have locks on the doors and windows of their homes. And their places of business are similarly protected. Is this freedom?
In Look magazine of November 18, 1969, a reporter accurately described the present situation by stating: “Fear has become a dominant factor in the nation’s life. People told me they were more afraid than they were a few years ago. Small-town residents hesitate to visit the big cities. Women are afraid to go out at night. Many city-factory areas become ghostly armed camps at night, with dogs, searchlights and alarm systems alerted against intruders. More home doors are locked. The old breezy reception of strangers is contracting. Assault is accepted as a normal risk.”
Even in suburban areas and small towns, people often do not feel secure in their own homes because of mounting crime and violence. One resident in a seemingly peaceful suburb remarked: “I’m terrified in my own home.”
Thus, even in “free” countries large segments of the population live as though they were being besieged by an enemy army. Really, then, how free are persons who have to live like that?
Freedom in School?
Throughout the world, high schools, colleges and even grade schools are plagued by disorders. Students who want to proceed with their education are at times denied that freedom by the disruption. In Japan, as elsewhere, some schools have been shut down for long periods because of protests and rioting.
In New York city a band of about twenty youths invaded a high school during classes. They tied two teachers to their chairs and taped their mouths shut. The youths then harangued students with political tirades. In another instance, a group of demonstrators was invited into the school to discuss grievances. While the talks were in progress, several of the group went into classrooms and told the children to go home. In many other instances, teachers have been assaulted, students intimidated, classes broken up. In one city, it is reported, teachers are so terrified that three out of four now carry guns to class!
Without a doubt many student protesters are genuinely disgusted with the horrible conditions in the world. They see injustices, prejudice, poverty, war, and they are indignant. Yet, other students also feel incensed at these things but do not choose to resort to disruption or violence. They want to be able to continue their education. So when the forms of redressing grievances disrupt classes or result in violence and injury, is this not an interference with the freedom of other students? Is it freedom when teachers quit out of fear?
The economic situation also works against freedom in many cases today. For example, in most countries prices constantly increase. But wages do not always keep pace. There are large numbers of persons, particularly the elderly, whose incomes do not rise much, if at all. They may be on fixed pensions or “social security.” Often the maximum payments of such pensions are pitifully small considering the prices of food, clothing and shelter these days.
In this regard Look declared: “People on modest fixed incomes are desperate, wondering if they are to be pauperized by a flood of worthless paper money. Some women shoppers have become hysterical over vaulting grocery and meat prices.” Is this freedom?
Then too, is everyone really free to do work that he wants and enjoys? How many people do you know who actually have the kind of work that brings them genuine satisfaction? Is it not a fact that people more often work at what they can get, or what pays better, rather than at what they really like? Even those who may prefer a certain trade sometimes find themselves unable to use it because of various policies of management or labor unions. Is this freedom?
Also, how free are you even to breathe fresh air? About 150 million tons of pollutants are now spewed into the air each year, most of it potentially lethal gases. Large corporations continue to pollute the air even when there are laws against it. They merely pay the fine, which is usually small, and go right on polluting. Is endangering the health of others not a perversion of freedom?
Freedom at Sports Events?
When the New York Mets baseball team won the title in their division, their fans rejoiced. But then what happened? The New York Times reported: “The Shea Stadium playing field looked like the pock-marked surface of the moon yesterday. But no American flag was flying, because it had been stolen. In fact, almost everything not tacked down was snatched by rampaging fans.”
The head grounds keeper said in disbelief: “I’ve never seen damage to a field to this extent.” From 1,000 to 1,500 feet of the sod on the playing field was ripped out, taken as “souvenirs” by the crowd. And the field was littered with papers and cans.
Does freedom mean that one has the right to seize and destroy the property of others? If your neighbor ripped out your lawn, defaced the walls of your house, smashed the windows and stole your furniture, would you regard these actions as expressions of freedom? Or would you regard them as criminal acts?
Freedom Within Law Beneficial
True freedom does not mean the absence of laws that are right and beneficial. To enjoy freedom safely it must be within the framework of law.
The universe is kept in marvelous harmony by the physical laws that God has put into operation. These physical laws work for the good of man. For instance, do you feel oppressed by gravity? It keeps you from flying off the earth to certain death. It enables you to move about without the constant strain of weightlessness.
However, what if you were to deliberately ignore the law of gravity and jump from a high building? You would fall to your death or be severely injured. You cannot ignore physical laws without paying a penalty. Yet, when you work within their framework, you reap the benefits.
If there were no physical laws to govern the universe, creation would be in anarchy. Human life would soon be extinguished. How grateful we should be for these dependable physical laws! Because of them we know that the sun will come up each day. The earth will continue in its proper orbit, with proper tilt and rotation. The laws of growth will remain constant so that plants and trees provide food.
Man can never liberate himself from these physical laws. He either enjoys freedom within their bounds, or he ignores them, to his own hurt.
Laws for Human Behavior
Are we to think that God would cause physical laws to come into existence, but leave mankind without laws to govern his social behavior? Not at all.
The Creator’s laws for mankind have been written down and preserved so that we could know the best way to handle our affairs. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) Of their quality the Bible says: “The law of Jehovah is perfect, bringing back the soul. The reminder of Jehovah is trustworthy, making the inexperienced one wise. The orders from Jehovah are upright, causing the heart to rejoice.”—Ps. 19:7, 8.
However, was man not created a free moral agent? Yes, he was. It is a wonderful gift from God. But that freedom must be used within proper boundaries—those that God sets. And God purposed that this freedom should be relative, not total.
There is a critical need for proper boundaries to man’s freedom. Why? So that he does not enslave himself or interfere with the freedom of others. And when a person does obey God’s laws, he finds himself enjoying the highest form of freedom there is.
Enjoying Freedom Under God’s Laws
Today, there are hundreds of thousands of people all over the world enjoying such freedom. Who are they? They are Jehovah’s witnesses.
Why can it be said that they enjoy the highest form of freedom? Because obedience to God’s laws results in the elimination of things that oppress others and that deny freedom even to oneself. As a result, they are able to enjoy among themselves freedom from war, hatred, racial prejudice, exploitation, injustice and crime, as well as religious superstition. All this has a marvelous liberating effect. Knowledge of God’s laws results in real freedom; as Jesus said: “The truth will set you free.”—John 8:32, 40.
Does obeying God’s laws mean oppression because it provides boundaries to freedom? No more than the law of gravity is oppressing. Jehovah’s witnesses certainly do not feel their enjoyment of life hindered or restricted by God’s right laws. For while God’s laws provide proper boundaries, at the same time they allow a wide area where the individual can enjoy his free moral agency. Yet committing any act that harms oneself or others is not freedom but is criminal in God’s sight.
True Freedom Ahead
Those who obey God’s laws appreciate that they are under obligation to obey the laws of the nation in which they live. (Matt. 22:21) Hence, the Christian is not authorized to take matters into his own hands when he sees injustices. Freedom does not entitle him to riot, smash, hurt and kill. God’s law states: “A slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all, qualified to teach, keeping himself restrained under evil.”—2 Tim. 2:24.
This does not mean that Christians ignore the many injustices that arouse the righteous indignation of many people today. Indeed, obeying God’s laws means hating these injustices, for the Bible says: “O you lovers of Jehovah, hate what is bad.” (Ps. 97:10) In fact, when there is a conflict between the law of man and the law of God, the rule from God’s Word is: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
But should not the person interested in what is right try to correct wrong situations? True, he can do what is possible within the boundaries of God’s laws, and man’s. But all righteously disposed persons must take into account this fact: God does not purpose to change this present system of things or to save it! It is so far gone in corruption, injustice and lawlessness that God’s clearly stated purpose is to destroy it as might be done to a condemned building. He will replace it with a righteous new system of things under his heavenly government in the hands of Jesus Christ.—Dan. 2:44.
No, God will not try to save this decaying system with all its wickedness and bloodshed. Instead, he will take it out of the way altogether. That is why it is futile for humans to try to change things by violence. They cannot. Indeed, the Bible warns that conditions will go from bad to worse until God himself brings an end to them by annihilating wicked people.—2 Tim. 3:1-5, 13; Ps. 37:9, 10.
Even those who obey God’s laws now do not enjoy freedom in the fullest sense. Why not? Because they, as all other people, are still enslaved by the law of sin and death inherited from our first parents. (Rom. 5:12) They still get sick, grow old and die.
However, God-fearing persons today can look forward to being released, not only from this wicked system, but also from bondage to sickness, old age and death! This freedom will come to mankind during the thousand-year reign of Christ, which is now near at hand. Great will be the rejoicing in that new order when God “will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be any more.”—Rev. 21:4.
Thus, in God’s new order, freedom within the proper bounds of God’s laws will be enjoyed to the full. That is why the psalmist could foretell: “The meek ones themselves will possess the earth, and they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.”—Ps. 37:11.
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How free are you to walk outdoors at night?