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Morality and freedom

Today’s column explores a concept of morality that’s liberating, not confining, because it’s based on God’s love for all.

Freedom is a grand and noble concept to aspire to, and something we have an inherent right to enjoy. At the same time, courts and judges around the world are kept very busy trying to define the specific parameters of that freedom. At what point does the exercise of one person’s freedom interfere with another’s? Can we live together in an orderly and peaceful fashion and still feel truly free?

A unique statement on freedom has helped me find an answer to that question. It says: “There is moral freedom in Soul.” This statement is found in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” (p. 58), in which its author, Christian Science discoverer Mary Baker Eddy, uses “Soul” with a capital “S” as another name for God. This idea can have many implications, but what it has inspired me to consider is that freedom in its truest sense must be moral, and morality in its truest sense is freeing – because both our freedom and morality stem from God.

When I first read that sentence, however, I had a very different sense of morality and freedom. I’d grown up thinking that moral law such as the Bible’s Ten Commandments, while necessary to keep society safe, was confining. And I felt that freedom in its purest sense should mean I could do whatever I wanted. It hadn’t occurred to me that laws beginning with the phrase “Thou shalt not” could be liberating.

Encouraged by a mentor, I pondered the Ten Commandments more deeply and began to see them as guardrails ensuring safety and security. They had been revealed to Moses by God, and the Bible explains that God is Love itself. So it follows that to the extent we willingly and even gratefully conform to the spirit of those laws, we feel and experience more of eternal Love’s care for each of us.

To my surprise, that idea felt very freeing. I also thought of the example of Christ Jesus related in the Scriptures, and I could see how moral freedom was at work throughout his life and ministry. He commended and obeyed the Commandments, yet he constantly freed others from limitations such as lack and sickness and helped many break free from the confines of materialistic and sinful thinking.

In doing this, Jesus wasn’t just impressing a need to be moral on others, he was bringing to light man’s spiritual identity as created by God, in which expressing God’s own goodness is the true nature of every man, woman, and child. To acknowledge God as our spiritual creator steers us away from the snares and entrapments of materialism, and into the strength and freedom of our innate spiritual integrity. The more we make ideals like honesty and faithfulness our own and refrain from things like stealing, harming others, or coveting what others have, the more tangibly we experience our God-given freedom from limitation.

Here’s a simple example: I was one of several candidates for a job I felt very qualified for and thought I would enjoy. As I waited to hear whether I’d gotten the position, I was anxious in a way that wasn’t normal for me, so I decided to pray for a more spiritual viewpoint, acknowledging God’s love for everyone applying for the post.

As I did so, I realized that by intensely coveting this position, I was letting myself be overtaken by a very personal sense of what I thought the outcome should be. From experience, though, I knew that pursuing personal ambition couldn’t compare with experiencing what divine Love has in store for His children, which can only be good. What I needed was to understand and trust that divine Love guides each of us to decisions and solutions that benefit not just us, but others, too.

As I prayed along these lines I felt completely at peace. Freedom in this case didn’t come from being able to do whatever I wanted. It came from humbly and lovingly accepting that whatever good God had in store for me would be more than enough to satisfy me.

Did I get the job? I did, in time. The funny thing is I honestly don’t remember if it was at that time, or at a point when the job became available again. That’s how free I was from concern about it.

In the years since then I’ve had other experiences that have illustrated very tangibly to me that divine Love meets our needs, and that conforming to moral law isn’t rigid or confining. Rather, it allows us to move forward wisely and safely, and in ways that bless and help others. And that, in itself, is very freeing.

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