Saturday, October 8, 2011

God's Authority and Human freedom. Do These Contradict Each Other?

Authority, freedom, grace, prayer.

All of these are essential for a properly and fully human life.

How is it that authority and freedom, especially, are both essential? They would seem at first to be incompatible. They are, in fact, very compatible. Authority is necessary for us to be able to live our freedom most fully.

Think of the family. It is so important as we try to understand Christian discipleship to think of the family--that is, the family as it should be, not as it sadly sometimes exists in a deformed and unhealthy reality.

In a healthy family where the mom and dad both love their children dearly and would do anything for them, there is a lot to give us clues as to how authority and freedom need each other in human life.

When children are very young, parental authority is absolutely necessary to keep children from harm. It helps children learn about the world and how to live safely in it without coming to harm. A toddler does not know that an electrical outlet can harm him if he sticks an object into it. Now, does a good parent sit back waiting for his child to stick something into an electrical outlet so he can learn from experience and let the pain and trauma be a lesson for the future? Or, does a good parent stop the child before he sticks that object in?

Of course, a good parent stops the child before he gets hurt. Here is the key question: Does this make the child less free--of more free???

In fact, it makes the child more free. Free, meaning, free to continue on in life and to become what a human person is meant to be. Preventing the child from being badly hurt gives the child the freedom to continue to live life without having experienced that particular pain.

But this is a very easy example. Think of parental authority in the context of moral issues and relating to other people.

A child wants to kick and yell at another child because he wants to steal a certain toy for himself to play with. A good parent would, in an authoritative way, tell his child not to kick other people. Would this exercise of parental authority make the child more or less free? More free.

How? A person can become a more fully alive and flourishing human being in this life only if he respects the life and basic rights of other people. If I become the sort of person who kicks another person to get what I think I want at that moment, I am less free because I do not have the ability to relate to other people in a way that would foster the healthy relationships that are so important to human flourishing and happiness. I need mutual respect, I need friendship and companionship and love. These things are less likely to be real in my life if I am in the habit of harming others for selfish reasons.

Parents know this. And they use their natural authority as parents to instill this in their children. When a child develops the virtues of respect and justice toward others with the necessary help of his parents' guidance (sometimes firm), he becomes a free man. Free to be all that he can be.

So, without parental authority when we are younger in life, we cannot develop properly as human persons--we cannot develop the many virtues that are irreplaceable for a healthy, sane, joyful human life.

It is exactly like this with God and us. He is our father. He exercises authority through the Catholic Church so that we can know what our father wants to teach us about life in a way that is clear and unambiguous.
And in turn, when we have the clear teaching and guidance of our father, following it makes us truly more free--free to grow into fully alive, vibrant, flourishing human persons. God has authority and speaks with authority through the Church because He loves us and wants to guide us in life. When we listen to Him and embrace this guidance, we can experience life to its fullest potential. And this makes us more free.

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