The Limits of Freedom
“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”—Goethe.
FREEDOM! What a ring that word has. But what does it mean to you? Does freedom mean that you have the inalienable right to do as you please, when or where you please, without regard for other people? Of course not! Limits are placed on your actions by lawmaking bodies to protect the rights and interests of others. Is this not vitally necessary when people live together as a community?
For example, you may have the freedom to travel, but you can operate your vehicle only within lawful limits. These limits, or laws, were established as a protection not only for others but also for you. Therefore, true freedom does not mean immunity from all restraint, discipline, and sacrifice; neither does it mean the absence of laws that are right and beneficial. Interestingly, Black’s Law Dictionary defines freedom this way:
“The state of being free . . . without other check, hindrance, or prohibition than such as may be imposed by just and necessary laws and the duties of social life.”
To enjoy freedom, we must live our lives within two boundaries—natural laws and moral laws.
Physical Laws Limit Man
It is impossible for any human to have total freedom even if he isolates himself on a tiny island in the middle of a vast ocean. The natural demands of his body and his dependence on the environment would impose limitations on his freedom. The Creator, Jehovah God, has established these natural boundaries and has established others by means of his laws and principles.—Acts 17:26-28.
God put in operation physical laws that keep the universe in marvelous harmony. These laws work for our good. For instance, do you feel tyrannized by God’s natural law of gravity? Of course not! It is the necessary force that holds the universe together and keeps you from flying off the earth.
However, what if you deliberately were to ignore the law of gravity and jump from a one-hundred-foot cliff? You would fall to your death or else be severely injured. The result: not freedom but an increase in limitations. We cannot slight physical laws without paying a penalty. Yet, when we work within their limits, we reap the benefits.
Laws to Limit Behavior
About 300 years ago, the English philosopher John Locke summed up what you may have discovered about freedom and human law. He wrote: “Where there is no law there is no freedom. For liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others, which cannot be where there is no law; and is not, as we are told, ‘a liberty for every man to do what he lists [wishes].’ For who could be free, when every other man’s humour might domineer over him?”
How appropriate those words are when applied to human laws that limit harmful conduct! If man sees the need for law to govern social behavior, would not his Creator also have seen that need? Are we to think that God would cause physical laws to come into existence but leave mankind without laws to guide his conduct? Not at all.—Matthew 6:8.
The Creator’s laws for mankind are written down and preserved so that we can know the best way to handle our affairs. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) Of their quality, The Bible in Living English says: “Jehovah’s instructions are unerring, life-restoring; Jehovah’s lessons are trustworthy, enlightening simpletons; Jehovah’s mandates are acceptable, gladdening hearts; Jehovah’s commandment is honest, brightening eyes.”—Psalm 19:7, 8.
A person trying to live free from all proper moral limits is like a ship that has lost both compass and rudder. Both are adrift and must find a safe course or face disastrous consequences. This, therefore, raises a serious question. Can we safely navigate our life independently from God?