“If the Son sets you free, you will be truly free.”—JOHN 8:36.
1, 2. (a) What evidence is there that people are struggling to gain freedom? (b) What have been the results of such struggles?
TODAY, there is much talk about equality, liberty, and freedom. People in many parts of the world want to be free from oppression, discrimination, and poverty. Others demand to have freedom of speech, of choice, and of self-determination. To be able to do what one wants to do or to live the way one wants to live seems to be much desired by people everywhere.
2 How to satisfy those desires, however, is quite another matter. On the social or political level, many resort to protests, demonstrations, revolts, even revolutions. But do such confrontations achieve the desired results? On the contrary, they often lead to tragedies and loss of life. All of this once again testifies to the truthfulness of King Solomon’s inspired observation: “Man has dominated man to his harm.”—Eccl. 8:9.
3. What can we do to find true happiness and satisfaction?
3 The Christian disciple James pointed out the key to finding true happiness and satisfaction. He wrote: “The one who peers into the perfect law that belongs to freedom and continues in it . . . will be happy in what he does.” (Jas. 1:25) Jehovah, who gave that perfect law, knows best the things humans need in order to be completely happy and satisfied. He gave the first human couple everything that they needed to be happy—including true freedom.
WHEN HUMANS WERE TRULY FREE
4. What freedom did Adam and Eve enjoy? (See opening picture.)
4 When reading the first two chapters of Genesis, we can easily see that Adam and Eve enjoyed the kind of freedom that people today can only hope for—freedom from want, from fear, and from oppression. The first couple’s life was completely free from worries about food, work, sickness, and death. (Gen. 1:27-29; 2:8, 9, 15) Does this mean that the freedom that Adam and Eve enjoyed was absolute? Let us see.
5. Contrary to what many think, what is needed for people to enjoy freedom?
5 Many today think that to be truly free, they must be able to do anything and everything they want to do, regardless of the consequences. The World Book Encyclopedia defines freedom as “the ability to make choices and to carry them out.” However, it adds: “From a legal point of view, people are free if society imposes no unjust, unnecessary, or unreasonable limits on them.” This implies that, in practice, certain limits are necessary so that everyone in that society can benefit from the freedom granted. The question, then, is: Who has the right to determine what limits are just, necessary, and reasonable?
6. (a) Why does Jehovah alone possess absolute freedom? (b) What sort of freedom can humans enjoy, and why?
6 When it comes to freedom, a key point for us to bear in mind is that Jehovah God alone has what can be called absolute and unlimited freedom. Why? Because he is the Creator of all things and the almighty Sovereign of the universe. (1 Tim. 1:17; Rev. 4:11) Recall the beautiful words of King David in describing the unique and lofty position that Jehovah alone occupies. (Read 1 Chronicles 29:11, 12.) Accordingly, all creatures in heaven and on earth have freedom in only a relative sense. They must recognize that Jehovah God has the ultimate authority to impose what he determines to be just, necessary, and reasonable limits. That, in fact, was what Jehovah God did with his human creation right from the beginning.
7. What are some instinctive actions that contribute to one’s happiness?
7 Even though Adam and Eve initially enjoyed freedom in many ways, there were limits imposed on them. Some of them were instinctive, but they were limits nonetheless. For example, our first parents knew that to keep on living, they had to breathe, eat, sleep, and so on. Would they feel a loss of freedom for having to do these things? No, for Jehovah saw to it that even in doing such routine things, they could find enjoyment and contentment. (Ps. 104:14, 15; Eccl. 3:12, 13) Who would not delight in taking an invigorating breath of fresh air, eating his favorite food, or awakening from a restful night of sleep? We happily do these necessary things without any feeling of constraint or burden. Adam and Eve no doubt felt the same.
8. What specific command did God give our first human parents, and for what purpose?
8 Jehovah specifically commanded Adam and Eve to populate the earth and to take care of it. (Gen. 1:28) Did this command in some way deprive them of their freedom? Of course not! It was given to enable humans to participate in their Creator’s purpose—to make the earth into a global paradise home for a race of perfect humans forever. (Isa. 45:18) Today, it is not against Jehovah’s will for people to choose to be single or to be married but remain childless. Still, by and large, people marry and raise children in spite of the challenges such choices bring. (1 Cor. 7:36-38) Why? Because under normal circumstances, people find happiness and satisfaction in doing so. (Ps. 127:3) Enjoying their marriage and family for all eternity could have been Adam and Eve’s happy lot in life.
HOW TRUE FREEDOM WAS LOST
9. Why was God’s command found at Genesis 2:17 not unjust, unnecessary, or unreasonable?
9 Jehovah gave Adam and Eve another command, which included a clear statement of the penalty if violated: “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 certainly die.” (Gen. 2:17) Was this command in any way unjust, unnecessary, or unreasonable? Did it rob Adam and Eve of their freedom? Certainly not. In fact, a number of Bible scholars comment on the logic and good sense of the command. For example, one scholar observes: “The inference of God’s commands in [Genesis 2:16, 17] is that only God knows what is good . . . for humanity and only God knows what is not good . . . for them. To enjoy the ‘good,’ humankind must trust God and obey him. If they disobey, they will be left to decide for themselves what is good . . . and what is not good.” That is a burden that humans could not carry successfully on their own.
10. Why should we not equate free will with the right to decide what is good and what is bad?
10 Upon reading Jehovah’s command to Adam, many today would say that Adam was denied the freedom to do what he wanted. In saying so, they are confusing the exercise of one’s free will with the right to decide what is good and what is bad. Adam and Eve did have the freedom to choose whether they would obey God or not. However, only Jehovah has the right to decide in the absolute sense what is good and what is bad, as symbolized by “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad” in the garden of Eden. (Gen. 2:9) We have to admit that we do not always know what the outcome of our choices will be; nor do we know whether they will turn out for our good every time. That is why we so often see people make choices or decisions with all good intentions—only to have them result in suffering, disaster, or tragedy. (Prov. 14:12) Human limitations play a large role. By means of his command, Jehovah lovingly taught Adam and Eve the way to exercise true freedom. How is that so, and did that first couple respond?
11, 12. Why did Adam and Eve’s choice prove to be disastrous? Illustrate.
11 As it turned out, our first parents chose to disobey. Satan’s tempting promise—“your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and bad”—proved to be irresistible for Eve. (Gen. 3:5) Did Adam and Eve’s choice eventually enhance their freedom in any way? Sadly, it did not. Their choice did not bring them what Satan said it would. In fact, they soon learned that rejecting Jehovah’s direction and going their own way resulted in disaster. (Gen. 3:16-19) Why? Simply because Jehovah did not give humans the freedom to determine for themselves what is good and what is bad.—Read Proverbs 20:24 and footnote; Jeremiah 10:23.
12 This can be illustrated with a pilot flying an airplane. To reach a certain destination safely, he usually must follow a preapproved flight path. Modern aviation equipment allows a pilot to use onboard navigation instruments and to keep in touch with air traffic controllers along the way so as to reach his planned destination. However, if the pilot chose to disregard that guidance and fly any route he desired, the result could be disastrous. Like that pilot, Adam and Eve wanted to do things their own way. They rejected the guidance God had provided. The result? They ended, as it were, in a tragic crash, resulting in sin and death for themselves and for their future offspring. (Rom. 5:12) In striving for self-determination, they lost the true freedom they had been given.
HOW TO GAIN TRUE FREEDOM
13, 14. How can we gain true freedom?
13 People may think that the more freedom they have, the better off they will be, but the reality is that having unbounded freedom is a two-edged sword. True, freedom does bring many benefits; yet, we shudder to imagine what the world would be like if there were no restraints at all. For this reason, The World Book Encyclopedia states: “The laws of every organized society form a complicated pattern of balanced freedoms and restrictions.” “Complicated” is surely the right word. Just think of the volumes and volumes of laws written by man, let alone the armies of lawyers and judges needed to interpret and administer them.
14 In contrast, Jesus Christ pointed out a simple way to enjoy true freedom. He said: “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32) Jesus’ direction for gaining true freedom involves two requirements: First, accept the truth that he taught, and second, become his disciple. Doing so will lead to true freedom. But freedom from what? Jesus went on to explain: “Every doer of sin is a slave of sin. . . . If the Son sets you free, you will be truly free.”—John 8:34, 36.
15. Why can the freedom that Jesus promised make us “truly free”?
15 Clearly, the freedom that Jesus promised his disciples is far superior to the social or political freedom that most people yearn for today. When Jesus said: “If the Son sets you free, you will be truly free,” he was talking about liberation from the greatest bondage and oppression that humankind has ever experienced—being “a slave of sin.” Not only can sin lead us to doing what is bad but it can also prevent us from doing what we know is right or from living up to what we know we are capable of. In that sense we are slaves of sin, and the outcome is frustration, pain, suffering, and finally death. (Rom. 6:23) The apostle Paul felt this pain and agony deeply. (Read Romans 7:21-25.) It is only when the shackles of sin are thrown off that we can hope to have the true freedom that our first human parents once enjoyed.
16. How can we become truly free?
16 Jesus’ statement “if you remain in my word” implies that there are certain requirements or boundaries for being set free by him. As dedicated Christians, we have disowned ourselves and have chosen to live within the bounds of Christ’s teachings as his disciples. (Matt. 16:24) Just as Jesus promised, we will be truly free when the benefits of his ransom sacrifice are fully applied to us.
17. (a) What will give our life real meaning and satisfaction? (b) What will we consider in the next article?
17 Submitting to Jesus’ teachings as his disciples will give our life real meaning and satisfaction. This, in turn, opens up the prospect of being completely liberated from enslavement to sin and death. (Read Romans 8:1, 2, 20, 21.) The following article will consider how we can wisely use the freedom we now have, so that we can honor Jehovah, the God of true freedom, forever.