God on Monday
‘You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, but do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence. Rather, through love be servants to one another’ (Galatians 5.13).
Welcome to the twenty-fifth God on Monday reflection on ‘purpose’!
When I left home for university, the first talk I heard was from the Warden of my hall. ‘Welcome’, she said, ‘you are now independent adults living away from parental control. Here you are free to party all night, get drunk, and make a mess’. I could hardly believe my ears. Surely in her role she would expect good behaviour. ‘But’, she went on, ‘some of your fellow students value sobriety, hard work, tidiness and community-mindedness. Your freedoms, therefore, must not limit the freedoms of others’.
I heard countless talks and lectures during my years as a student. But that first one made a lasting impression. It comes to mind whenever I think of the political and economic freedoms enjoyed in democratic societies. The rule of law and civic virtues on which such societies are based are intended both to secure those freedoms and to ensure they do not harm others. Freedom, in other words, requires responsibility. This idea inspired the Jewish psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl to suggest that the Statue of Liberty on America’s east coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on its west coast – a suggestion that is due to become reality in 2023.
The COVID-19 pandemic has involved a huge contraction of human freedom. Wealthy well-vaccinated countries are now seeing the lifting of restrictions, culminating in national Freedom Days on which almost all restrictions are lifted. Yet because of the protection these restrictions have offered, many vulnerable people for whom the vaccine is ineffective see that day as a day of dread, rather than of freedom.
For Christians, Christ’s resurrection marks the ultimate Freedom Day. It lifts all restrictions, regains the freedom of the garden of Eden, and opens the way to the eternal liberty of heaven. Much of the New Testament is addressed to people who find either that such freedom is too much of a threat to their comfortingly familiar unfreedoms, or who think it means they can do whatever they please.
In Galatians, the freedom Christ offers is presented as humanity’s true calling and purpose - ‘it is for freedom that Christ has set you free’ (5.1) – but also as the grounds for serving others through love (5.13, cited above).
The Warden was right. Freedom and responsibility are indivisible. Both are necessary for communities and workplaces to flourish. It is only in exercising them simultaneously that we find what on earth we are here for.
Peter S Heslam, Director of Faith in Business, Cambridge
The journal Faith in Business Quarterly is running a series of articles by Peter Heslam on personal and corporate purpose, entitled 'What is Business For?'. To find out how to subscribe to this journal, or contribute an article, follow the links here.