On Faith: Power lies in people when it comes to freedom
February 12, 2021
When Sunday school students see beyond the superficial details of the story of Adam and Eve, they begin to reflect on the reality of sin. A typical response appeals to their sense of justice. “Well, that’s not fair,” they will say. They understand the presence of so much violence, selfishness, corruption, stupidity and cruelty in the world, but they are not satisfied with the cause. After all, we weren’t the ones in the garden disobeying God, why do we have to suffer the consequences?
In trying to find a solution to the problem, the question arises: “Why did God give us the freedom to be disobedient knowing that this would lead to the destruction of Paradise?” And while the question may not satisfy the perceived injustice of our fallen world, it does highlight the immeasurable importance and value of human freedom. Knowing that freedom would be abused and that the fallout would be catastrophic for man and the world he inhabits, God nonetheless has given us this most precious and powerful gift. “God in the beginning created human beings and made them subject to their own free choice.” (Sirach 15:14)
Christian revelation teaches that human freedom is an exceptional sign of the divine image within us. It is the gift that allows us to shape our lives, makes us responsible for our actions and seeks the source of our existence. And while our freedom comes from God, the right use of freedom and its protection comes from us.
We read in the Declaration of Independence that the power of government originates in the consent of the governed and that power is established to secure the rights of the governed. The preamble to the State of Minnesota’s constitution states “We, the people of the state of Minnesota, grateful to God for our civil and religious liberty, and desiring to perpetuate its blessings and secure the same to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution.”
What are the freedoms government is instituted to protect? An indispensable tool that gives flesh to the spirit of freedom is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations after the Second World War. A few of the articles are worth mentioning: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference of his privacy, family or home. Everyone has a right to freedom of movement. Everyone has a right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country. Everyone has a right to freedom of opinion and expression. Everyone has a right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Everyone has a right to work. Everyone has a right to education.
For almost an entire year we have seen these rights challenged by foreign, federal, state and local governments. Stay-at-home orders, restrictions on gatherings, who is allowed in your own home, border closures, closed churches, private businesses shut down, schools closed and censorship are but a few examples. The institutions and authority established specifically to protect our rights have taken them from us. Imagine a security guard robbing the bank he or she was hired to protect. But the guard says, “I did it to protect you from sickness and death.” Um, thanks for thinking of me, but I’m good taking care of my own health and I’ll let Jesus take care of the death thing. Can I have my money back please?
Fortunately, in our country and state, the power of government belongs to the people. The exercise of that power is transferred to those we freely elect as representatives. But we retain our authority by evaluating the work of those charged with governing and replacing them when they do not fulfil their functions satisfactorily. We might want to start thinking about who is guarding the bank.
Father Fish is the priest at Queen of Peace Catholic Church and Holy Family Catholic in Cloquet.