The Nature of Humans: Core 9
Freedom is one of the most important aspects of human nature because it is unique to human beings alone. We have freedom to make choices and act according to moral standards, and it is our choice whether or not we have concern for other people and their well-being. Freedom lets us commit to one choice and “In many respects, we are freest when, no longer torn in different directions by a multitude of possibilities, we can at last surrender to one of them whole-heartedly” (31). One of the choices we can make is whether to love and serve God in our lives, and this choice determines not the amount of freedom we have in our lives, but can also be a measure of the quality of life that we lead. For biblical faith, freedom is the central characteristic of human nature. The essence of this freedom is the capacity and responsibility for self-determination in community with other persons and with God” (47). Freedom does come with a certain amount of responsibility, and thus freedom can be affective at bringing us closer to God, but also in leading is away towards sin and a self-centered idolatrous life style.
God gives us this option though, in order that we might see what great gifts and extended freedoms come from choosing a life with him. “Free-will” is somewhat of a gamble on God’s part, because he is putting his faith in us, that we will return his love and have faith in him. “[O]ur human “nature” is to a great extent something which God has empowered us to freely imagine, create and shape” (47). God has given us the ability to determine our own set of rules and ethics to live by, and we govern the world we inhabit with the restrictions of freedom that we have placed ourselves.
By being able to make choices we learn not only about ourselves, but also of others and our relationships with them. This also leads us to ask deeper questions about life, and what we should strive to make of it. “These are the questions of desire and they are fundamental to our understanding of freedom…Freedom is the capacity to desire” (31). Desire is also a unique trait to us, because it allows us to determine priorities in our life, and also what we strive for in terms of commitment and our ultimate happiness.
This ability to think openly and freely is essential to our understanding of human life and our purpose. This “real freedom of the world is what God most intensely desires and is its greatest good” (27). However, it is only through a loving union and commitment to God that we can achieve such freedoms in life.
Having a loving union and commitment to God is essential to our lives because we have been created in the image of God and need to accept the responsibility that comes with being given such a great gift. “Humility, trust in God, and obedience to God’s will constitute genuine human greatness” (Malone Lecture). God created us with ultimate love and gave us freedom, but he did ask that we care for the world and treat it with respect. This was not an invitation to “create” the world and oversee it, but to be a caretaker who watches over the world and its well-being. “In God’s plan, as the Yahwist understands it, the original relationship between humanity and the earth is one of responsible care” (22). This care is sometimes taken advantage of by humans because we consider ourselves the driving and ultimate force on this planet. The wasting of resources and extinction of people and animals is a perversion of the authority God originally gave humans. This responsibility was given to us to shape us into responsible people who can aptly make the right life choices that will maintain a loving relationship with God and others. Sachs discusses our relationship with God and his gift to us when he says:
The only mode we have of experiencing God, of relating with God, of accepting
God in love or turning from God in selfishness, is in terms of this world and our
action in it. In all that we do, we are at least implicitly taking a stand with respect
to God and God’s offer of life (32).
Taking advantage of this offer of life is something humans have done in the past and will continue to do because we have a desire for more power and freedom. It is important for humans to realize that their amount of power on earth will not matter anywhere else and that we do not need anything else out of life but to have a commitment and be one with God and others. “If we are really capable of being one with God, then nothing else but loving union with God will make us whole and entire” (32). We can help and support each other to attain this relationship by working as a community to develop a system of trust and love for one another.
We become human through our interaction with others and therefore, it is necessary that we interact with others in order to learn and grow. “The fundamental blessing and challenge shared by all persons: the gift and call not to be alone, to be with and for others and to contribute to the development of the world” (49). We also need a community in order to help us commit to a loving relationship with God, and to keep us from taking a selfish role in life. Essentially, we look for love in other people, and finding this love creates a bond that gives us more freedom and establishes commitments not only to each other, but also to our own will in life and to God. “Throughout our lives, the desire which drives us in our interaction with other people and things is looking for life and love which is full and lasting” (32). This means that we cannot simply rely on ourselves for all answers and ideas. It is important to network with other people so that we may create a set of ideals together that will help everyone to get fulfillment out of life. We need each other to understand our purpose, as well as how we have been created in the image of God. Sachs points out that our differences point to a larger whole that will show us meaning and depth:
[N]o human being can claim to experience or understand the mystery of what it
means to be human only from his or her humanity. The real humanity of each
person, male or female, is something that points beyond itself to a real other. This
is a paradox. Male and female are not simply accidental characteristics of human
being; neither are they two different creatures. They are irreducibly different in
one humanity (19).
The differences between the sexes and how these come together to complement each other is the way we portray the image of God in our relationships.
The idea of male and female is the ultimate balance between two things that are both equal and different at the same time. Created equally to strive for the same common goal, a loving relationship with God, but different in the way we visualize achieving this goal, and our methods for executing this goal throughout life. “Scripture affirms that human nature is shared. Humanity is one nature which subsists in two distinct modes, male and female. Each is fully human but the full humanity of each is a relational mystery which necessarily includes the other in some way” (46). We depend on one another to answer the questions we cannot. This is possible because we each have a different way of viewing the world and this applies to all people not necessarily just male and female. The ability to think freely gives all females the choice to think however they want on any issue, and this conglomeration of ideas should help determine some sort of agreement or answer when coupled with the various ideas that men have.
While at times our choices can lead us away from God, it is always possible to use one another for support in order to come to terms with God and repent for our wrongdoings and actions. This is due in part to the fact that our sins will affect others as well as ourselves, so we need the support of other people to rectify the sins committed.
Free will has often led human beings into temptation for sin and evil, and this conscious choice comes with consequences not only for the person who committed the sin, but also for the community and other loved ones. This is what makes “[s]in…a social reality” (63). It is a reality because it cannot be hidden inside one person, because the repercussions of that sin will ultimately affect others if we have created a strong community with others based on trust and love. “Every sin, he (John Paul II) states…has repercussions on the whole community and in some measure upon the whole man family…it seems that most sin, in fact, is a direct offense or failure of love toward the neighbor” (63). If we have succeeded in building a community, then sin is what challenges that community to come together and renew our relationship with God.
When we deny God in our lives, our entire framework for human nature becomes unsteady. It is only through a solid foundation with God that we can be free to make choices that will lead us closer to him. In addition, it is only through a strong community and our relationships with other people that we can realize our true freedom and maintain a life of love and commitment to one another and God. All things are dependent upon one another, and when our nature is challenged by sin, God will intervene with his divine grace so that we may uphold our quality of life and the relationships we have painstakingly created. Sin is seen a refusal to accept and live according to God’s free gift of love” (63). However, when it is evident that we truly desire and choose God, he will forgive without hesitating, and without resent.
Grace is God’s gift of friendship, a power to restore or freedom and release us from sin regardless of whether or not we a deserving of forgiveness (Malone Lecture). It is through God’s grace that we can find completeness in life and receive the support that will enhance our freedom. The realization that God is necessary in our lives is a direct result of all the Christian traditions that we have established for ourselves. It is only with God’s grace that we can erase our sin and achieve freedom and a close relationship with God. “Recognized or not, grace is present and active wherever human beings accept themselves for what they are before God and realize their true humanity. For grace leads the human person to that fullness of life which is only found outside its own narrow, enclosed ‘self’” (74). In life, it is necessary to ignore our own selfish desire and work for the greater good and the shared enjoyment of life, not our shallow desires, is what will lead us to true happiness.
The field of law utilizes Christian Humanist assumptions in that it relies on the idea of community between people. The community either supports or rejects the written law and gives feedback on just and unjust laws. It also attempts to reconcile the harmful effects that individual persons sins have had on society and the community.
The field of law is also an area that attempts to preserve the amount of freedom humans have in their lives. This is done by creating laws that can govern as well as guide, and also creates standards that people should attempt to live up to. While these laws sometimes hinder our freedoms, they are most often developed as a result of the standard of human life and ethics that the greater community has determined for itself.
This system of government can be observed in the United States, where we have a democratic society. In Totalitarian governments however, the freedom is often abused by people who are attempting to “play God,” by controlling others. According to the lecture by Michael Malone, the message of the Yahwist describes this as the “greatest sin,” which is “to act on our desire to be God.”