One of the most inspiring sights in America’s landscape is the Statue of Liberty. When the vast throngs of immigrants saw it in New York Harbor, tears often welled up in their eyes. Many of them, at great sacrifice, made the long and perilous journey to these shores, coming from intolerable economic and political infringements on their fundamental rights.
Here, they had a chance.
But Liberty is only part of the equation of progress. It is an essential beginning, since the human person must freely act if anything of value is to be done whether in an earthly or an eternal sense.
But that is only the beginning. Driving the movement of growth must also have the dimension of responsibility. Freedom is a means and not an end in itself. When it comes to meaningful action, one must have a sense of responsibility that things be done well for the good of others. Chief of these ‘others’ is The Other—God Himself. We are responsible to Him first of all. We are responsible to Him who gave us free will and the thirst for liberty so that what we do is according to the all wise and all loving will of God.
We use the word ‘Freedom’ a lot in our political discourse and debates. But it is often seen as what theologians would call ‘license’ that is, doing what you want simply because you want to do it. Freedom or Liberty, however, was given to us by God so that we can exercise the work of God in this world in a thoroughly human sense: to freely and with full understanding of our responsibilities co-create the world with God. When you separate ‘Freedom’ from God you place humankind on the road to Chaos. For if everyone acts in freedom without acknowledging God, the Giver, and the reason for the gift, this world would end up in a sorry place. Freedom apart from God is meaningless and potentially harmful since it will express the unredeemed nature of humankind.
But to freely do all things in union with God and His purposes is to live responsibly in this age and to build the future of this created world. I emphasize ‘created’ since it presupposes the partnership of the Creator Who set all things in motion and Who sustains creation at every moment of time.
Hence, the rare and precious privilege we enjoy by helping God to create in freedom the world and its future is seen in all its Divine perspective.
In contrast to this perspective, the modern quest for the rights of every individual rings hollow and reveals itself to be a form of disguised pride born of a sense of inferiority that demands attention. While it is true that the quest for justice is at the heart of the plan of God, rights without the partnership of responsibility is simply a false reduction of the dignity of the human person. Our worth is rooted in our being made in the image and likeness of the Creator God whose works are declared ‘good’ and ‘very good’ by Sacred Scripture. And so, we are a part of the evolution of the created order working hand in hand with God, our model and inspiration. The responsibility that we ought to feel in this exalted role is often obscured by the facile and strident demands concerning rights without this Divine Context and the responsibility that comes from this.
Liberty without Responsibility becomes License as we try to replace our Creator instead of partnering with Him.
In our sinfulness, we strive to act in a solitary way without this defining partnership. This calling out of need and demand causes us to be deaf to the needs of others (especially those on the other end of the political spectrum) and, even more tragically, causes us to be deaf to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
We must seek fulfillment in freedom only when we are rooted in God and open to the quest for completion of the rest of humankind. How hollow the quest for rights is in the technologically advanced West when put next to the utter poverty and near hopelessness of the billions of people who are wasting away in refugee camps and in countries that offer nothing but despair to their people.
No, in New York Harbor, next to the inspiring Statue of Liberty there should be another statue: The Statue of Responsibility. This is the missing reality that offers balance to the quest for maturity of the Human Person created in the Image of God.