The use and abuse of freedom and power
A Christian Science perspective: Honesty and the commitment to serving humanity prevent the misuse of power for selfish purposes.
Through the centuries, political and corporate people have risen to the top of their professions through hard work and selfless service to humanity. This holds true in so many other fields as well – religious, public service, entertainment. A hard-working news reporter might be given a credit card and a handful of airline tickets to travel wherever he or she needs to cover a leading event. Management trusts its staff to make right decisions while on the road or in the air – without a leash.
But there can be a perverted inclination in the human mind to use this kind of unsupervised liberty to cross the line of honesty, integrity, and the mission at hand for selfish purposes. Top echelon leaders may yield to the temptation to take personal, financial, even sexual, advantage of subordinates. This also sometimes happens with corporate magnates, politicians, and military commanders who find themselves in a special place to gain personal and financial benefits they might not have earned.
In spite of these temptations to misuse freedom, there are laws to correct and control this wanton behavior. Human laws often come to the rescue to protect the innocent and to discipline those who have abused their freedom. There are also wonderful insights from those Bible characters who were aware of these same human tendencies in their times centuries ago.
With intuitive wisdom, St. Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia this spiritual advice that applies to human behavior and the need to stay honest and upright in our service to others. He said: “[B]rethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). The Contemporary English Version puts it this way: “My friends, you were chosen to be free. So don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do anything you want. Use it as an opportunity to serve each other with love.”
A story familiar to Bible students is about King David’s misuse of his power. He saw Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, who was one of the king’s military leaders, washing herself. After he took advantage of her, he ordered that Uriah be placed in the forefront of a battle, knowing that he would be killed in that battle.
Afterward, Nathan, a respected prophet, brought David to his senses and made him realize that he had committed a serious sin. This awakened the king to the perversion of power he had exercised for his own advantage. “And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die” (II Samuel 12:13).
David recovered from his misuse of power and later regained his natural spiritual integrity and sincerity, leading him to eventually write, as some Bible scholars believe, many of the psalms, which have remained a comfort and blessing for centuries to follow right to the present time.
The Bible is full of examples of men and women who used their spiritual integrity and goodness unselfishly, and to the great benefit of others individually and collectively, instead of serving self. As David eventually learned, a higher and more complete honesty forbids abuse or perversion of power for personal advantage. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, writes, “Human power is most properly used in preventing the occasion for its use; otherwise its use is abuse” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 219).
More often than not, those who abuse their powers for personal gain are exposed, and either disciplined, or they are able to reform as King David did.
What makes the reformation possible when the abuse of power has been exposed? A greater love for God and His goodness, and an unselfish love for humanity. When one loves God’s goodness and desires only to express that selfless love to others, the inclination to abuse the power he or she has been granted is corrected.
These steps toward protecting the powers that anyone has can only be a continuing blessing – not only to the individuals who are in special places to exercise their authority, but to the society they serve to the benefit of everyone. When our motive has changed from serving self to serving humanity, then we find that any power we have been granted is enriched, strengthened, and expanded to the benefit of all within our reach.