Man—Free and Responsible
THE great Creator, the Supreme Being, Jehovah God, is the prime example of freedom and responsibility. As his Word tells us, there was a time when he was alone. At that time he was without any responsibility. Had he chosen, he could have ever continued in this carefree condition. But because he is love he put his attributes of wisdom and power to work, thereby becoming morally responsible for the lives, well-being and happiness of his creatures. Because of his greatness and supremacy, however, he is nevertheless accountable only to himself, even as the book of Job so clearly shows.
Even as Jehovah recognizes the responsibilities that come with his acts, he also recognizes those that his very words bring. His promises therefore can be relied upon. They are no mere scrap of paper or vain breath, but are as dependable and enduring as the Rock of Gibraltar, yes, and more so, even as he assures us: “I have spoken, I will also bring it to pass.” And again, “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”—Isa. 46:11; 55:11, AS.
God, in creating man in his image, not only gave man a capacity for intelligence and a moral sense, a measure of his love, justice, wisdom and power, but also gave man a measure of his freedom and corresponding responsibilities. Freedom and responsibility, in fact, are correlatives, the one involves and implies the other. Freedom brings with it the responsibility to choose, and by making a choice one assumes further responsibilities.
Thereby man differs greatly from the inanimate creation. The bodies in the starry heavens move in assigned orbits at certain rates of speed according to God’s immutable laws. Likewise does man greatly differ from the brute creation who are subject to instincts and the vicissitudes of their environment. Neither the inanimate creation nor the brute creation is therefore morally accountable to the Creator.
But man is. He was given the capacity for being reliable and so was entrusted with certain interests and made answerable for them. Consistent therewith, God communicated to man His will regarding him in the form of mandates or commands: “Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it, and have in subjection” all the brute creation. “From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction. But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.” These commands man was free to obey or disobey, being responsible, of course, for the consequences of his choice.—Gen. 1:28; 2:16, 17.
Throughout the life of man freedom and responsibility are relative matters. When he is born into the world as a helpless infant he is wholly without freedom and responsibility. As he grows in physical strength and knowledge and understanding he gains a measure of freedom and becomes correspondingly responsible. By the time he becomes an adult he is free and responsible to choose his course in life, his religion, whether or not to marry, and whom to marry, and, depending upon his capabilities and environment, is comparatively free to choose his trade or profession or means of gaining a livelihood. To the extent that he has matured mentally and emotionally, to that extent he will delight in this freedom and not look back longingly to childhood’s carefree days.
“THE FLIGHT FROM RESPONSIBILITY”
Particularly during the past seventy-five years, however, certain worldly-wise men, denying that man was created by God and in his mental image, have done their worst to undermine the sense of responsibility that should be man’s by reason of his freedom. They have built a philosophy of life around the Big Excuse. No matter what crime a man may commit, no matter how woefully short he may fall of carrying out his obligations, they can always find an excuse. They do not note that there are countless others who are in identical situations but who do not commit such crimes or fall so short. Rather, they prefer to excuse the wrongdoer on the basis of his imagined brute ancestry, his childhood training or his environment. Men such as Freud would even make man a slave of his sex instincts, as though his brain were a mere appendage of his sex organs. Thus they would rob man of his responsibility to exercise self-control, of his obligation to do his best under all circumstances. They would deny the just logic of God’s requirement that we treat others the way we want them to treat us. Thereby they also deny that man is free.
A like folly is “progressive education,” so popular in many parts of the United States. It proceeds upon the theory that a child must not be required to exert and discipline himself and so learning must be made to appeal to his immature mind and inclinations. He is promoted automatically at the end of the term regardless of what he has learned, thereby robbing him of both incentive and responsibility. No wonder that the products of such education are found to be so woefully lacking in the professional, commercial and industrial fields and why such are more concerned with what a job offers in the way of vacations with pay and sick benefits than with what it has to offer in the way of a future.
The economic trend in Western lands is likewise toward relieving men of responsibility. It is seen in the deductions the employer makes for taxes, unemployment and old-age benefits, etc. Also, man becomes less and less personally responsible for any one finished product that would reflect his abilities, industry and integrity. As the late Dr. Alexis Carrell, one of the leading biologists of the twentieth century, shows in his book Man, the Unknown, material prosperity, modern inventions and mass production are combining to rob man of his sense of responsibility, of his personality and dignity, making him ever more like a robot, morally flabby; all of which, according to Carrell, bodes ill for mankind.
This modern trend is further seen in family life. Parents flee from responsibilities they incurred by bringing children into the world, letting their children grow up as weeds. Children refuse to accept any responsibility in the home or toward other members of the family. Fathers follow the line of least resistance rather than shouldering their responsibilities, and mothers all too often shirk the responsibilities peculiarly theirs, while usurping those of the fathers. Husbands and wives ignore the responsibilities they have toward each other’s mental, emotional and physical well-being, while lovers show the same disposition by trifling with each other’s affections. Well has L. A. Alesen, M.D., termed this “the flight from personal responsibility.”
The most serious aspect of this flight from responsibility is seen in the field of religion. As noted in a newspaper report on the “State of the Churches,” as given out by the National Council of Churches of the United States: “Interest in religion appears to be at an all-time high, with church membership over 100 million, but delinquency, immorality and social confusion also are at peaks.” (Progress Bulletin, Pomona, California, December 3, 1957) Even as prophetically foretold, men show a form of godly devotion by becoming “church” members, but they deny its responsibilities by proving false to its power. The example of others and specious reasoning, termed “rationalization,” are used by such to justify them in their irresponsible course.—2 Tim. 3:1-5.
This flight from responsibility can be seen even among some who recognize the trueness of the message brought to them by the witnesses of Jehovah. Such refuse to have a Bible study in their homes because they are afraid of the responsibilities that come from becoming a witness of Jehovah. Others, again, are like the stony or the thorny ground in which the seed prospers for a time. But when faced with responsibilities they flee from them, and so let the seed of truth die. In fact, even among dedicated Christians there are some who shrink from conducting home Bible studies with persons or accepting added privileges of service in a congregation because of not wanting to shoulder the responsibilities that come with these. In passing, it might be noted that doubtless one reason why the atheist denies and the agnostic questions the existence of the Creator is that, either consciously or unconsciously, they do not want to accept the responsibility that comes from acknowledging the Creator’s existence. To do so means to recognize that we owe Him both gratitude and obedience.
By reason of the fact that the truth makes a Christian free he thereby becomes more accountable. As the apostle Paul states: “For each one will carry his own load of responsibility.” However, both these are relative, and one of the things they depend upon is knowledge: “If one knows how to do what is right and yet does not do it, it is a sin for him.” And as Jesus said regarding his opposers: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.”—Gal. 6:5; Jas. 4:17; John 15:22.
And as one acts upon knowledge he becomes more responsible. Thus one who dedicates himself to God must carry out that dedication: “Whenever you vow a vow to God, do not hesitate to pay it, . . . What you vow, pay. Better is it that you vow not than that you vow and do not pay.”—Eccl. 5:4, 5.
To guide us in paying our vows God has given us his Word, the Bible. It, however, does not tell us individually what to do in specific instances. Rather, it sets out basic principles or rules of conduct and then it becomes our responsibility to apply these in our daily lives. We individually must draw the line as to what things belong to Caesar and what things to God, to give but one illustration.—Matt. 22:21.
Additionally, every Christian has the responsibility to bear fruit, even as Jesus showed. (John 15:2) Among such fruitage is “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.” That includes helping our Christian brothers to the extent we have opportunity and means. We may not be like the priest and the Levite who tried to brush off their responsibility to the traveler who had been beaten and robbed by walking on the other side of the street. Rather, we must be like the good Samaritan who went out of his way to help the one in distress.—Gal. 5:22, 23; Luke 10:29-37.
And since Jesus came to earth for the very purpose of bearing “witness to the truth,” Christian fruit bearing includes preaching ‘this good news of God’s kingdom’ to the extent that one has knowledge and opportunity to do so. We may not be like the one-mina or one-talent slave of Jesus’ illustrations who refused to shoulder responsibility for his master’s goods but hid it away in the ground, when he could at least have put it out to interest and realized some increase. Rather, we must feel as did Paul, who exclaimed: “Really, woe is me if I did not declare the good news!” He recognized his responsibilities and shouldered them.—John 18:37; 1 Cor. 9:16.
Another sphere of Christian responsibility that it seems well to stress is that accruing from our sins and shortcomings. We should have a sensitive conscience regarding these and continually beg forgiveness of God on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice. But more than that, we must also shoulder moral responsibility for these. We may not blame God or our parents or our circumstances; neither may we blame the other fellow as did Adam, as did Eve and as did King Saul. To do so not only is unloving and shows a lack of maturity, but also indicates that we are not truly repentant and therefore not deserving of forgiveness.
Being free, we must shoulder our responsibilities. To do so requires a keen sense of justice as well as wisdom and love. As we mature we should increase in responsibility. Meeting its challenges, we will grow stronger, receive increasing satisfactions and joys and finally God’s approval and reward of everlasting life in his new world.