Science in Christian Perspective



Penetrating the Word Maze

Richard H. Bube
Stanford University
Stanford CA 94305

From: PSCF 40 (December 1988): 236-237.

Taking a look at words we often use-and misuse, Please let us know whether these attempts at clarification are helpful to you.

Today's word is "freedom."

The Dictionary definition: "the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action" [Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, MerriamWebster, Springfield, MA (1987)].


If my shoes are tied so tightly that my circulation is threatened, I will indeed experience freedom if the laces are loosened. If they continue to be loosened until my shoes fall off, I will lose my walking freedom. So it is with freedom in general. Freedom can be increased in certain cases by removing excessive coercion or restraint, but the very existence of freedom demands the presence of some restraints.

Unfortunately the dictionary definition can be quite misleading. If taken literally, such a view violates what we really mean by "freedom."

Suppose we were free of all restraints in the physical world-of gravity and all physical laws-we'd have physical chaos, not freedom.

Suppose we were free of all restraints in the social world - no social laws, no courtesy, no consideration for others - we'd have social chaos, not freedom.

Suppose we were free of all restraints in the spiritual realm-no God, no Ten Commandments, no Lord and Savior-we'd have spiritual chaos, not freedom.

To suppose that freedom means the absence of all constraints is an anarchist's view. People who hold to this abstract and unrealistic ideal of freedom strive for a kind of existence that is incompatible with the real created world. They forget both the essential limitations of a finite universe and the self-centeredness of the human heart. If they persist, they can result only in the destruction of their own actual freedom, as well as that of others.

Certainly science and engineering teach us that freedom in this real created universe depends not on our being rid of constraints, but on our understanding and knowing what constraints there are and creatively working within them. If I wish to remain free and active, then I must realize the constraints that are imposed upon me: I cannot walk off the top of a tall building, I cannot eat poison, I cannot take dope, and I cannot lie down in front of a crocodile.

These same kinds of constraints operate in interpersonal relationships as well. To be free in the vital dynamic sense of the word in this real world means that I do not demand the absence of constraints on personal selfishness, personal greed, injustice between persons, or social persecution. Nor do I demand the absence of constraints on killing, hating, stealing, committing adultery, lying, slandering, or coveting.

Sometimes people try to draw a contrast between physical "laws" that are "never broken," and "laws" governing interpersonal relationships that are often broken. The attempted contrast is a spurious one. It is indeed not possible to attempt to "break" a physical "law with impunity; if I challenge the "law" of gravity by walking off the top of a tall building, I suffer the consequences of in action. Neither is it possible to attempt to "break" a "laws coverning interpersonal relationships with impunity; if I try to violate personal relationships by treating human persons as if they were impersonal objects, I also suffer the consequences of my actions just as surely.

A shrinking world demands a voluntary transformation of individual freedom into social responsibility. A challenge to Christian responsibility is the choice of limitations on our own freedoms so that we may better serve others. What does it mean to follow Christ by choosing servanthood-except to be willing to lay aside our freedoms in order to live responsibly before God?

To be truly free is to recognize the inbuilt constraints of our created situation and our created nature, and to live within these constraints.

Feel free to write the Editor or Author with responses to these comments.