Have you ever wondered what it means to be truly free?
By free I don’t mean total freedom to choose and afford which version of Tex-Mex you want for lunch. Will it be Chipotle or Moe’s? What about Tijuana Flats? Are those even authentically Mexican?
I mean free to choose goodness and live a satisfying life, along with the capacity and desire to achieve those ends and want to do so. I mean free from evil and injustice.
The contemporary notion of freedom says true freedom is the absolute ability of humans to choose whatever they desire, both materially and morally, unobstructed by internal and external constraints. The epoch of our day is a clarion call to submit ourselves to the Siren’s song and listen to our most fundamental passions, and that no one—government, church or otherwise—should restrict our access to those desires. As Mark LiVecche says, the will moves to center-stage.
In this context, addicts are truly free insofar as they have access to their substance of choice. Doesn’t that sounds absurd? It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in psychology to know addicts are not free.
For LiVecche, freedom “must rest in a right conception of what it means to be a human being.” He writes:
“Thomas [Aquinas] realigns freedom away from autonomy (will-centered freedom), and back toward natural inclinations such as our native longing to give ourselves away in acts of
other-centered self-donation. These are natural because we are crafted in the image of a God who does just that.”
True freedom, then, exists within healthy constraints. One of these freedoms is found in the constraint of giving one’s self away to others. Within this context of freedom, addicts can find satisfaction by helping other addicts overcome their own struggles. What’s amazing is that social science agrees, peer-to-peer help programs for addicts helps those in sobriety find meaning and purpose (and income in some instances) and it helps addicts receive the social support and encouragement needed to achieve victory against their addiction.
And this doesn't only apply to addicts. Our communities can find satisfaction by loving their neighbor. In this case, their neighbor is the one they know who is suffering from addiction or the loved one of someone who is an addict. In Manatee County, there are few people who do not personally know someone affected by the opioid epidemic.
Oxford theologian Nigel Biggar wrote about this reality, saying, “the rationale of the [normal] authority of Jesus’ love-command needs to refer to the flourishing of the one who is commanded.” He goes on to explain further:
“We should love our neighbors because it is good for us to do so—because it profits us. The relevant profit, however, is not extrinsic but intrinsic, and its currency is not money but virtue. It is good that we should grow in the virtues of benevolence and justice; it belongs to our owngood or flourishing that we should become benevolent and just. And that will remain true, even if it should cost us our very lives.”
So helping addicts in our community does more than take “bad people off the streets” or help reduce the astronomical medical costs associated with the epidemic. It also helps us find true satisfaction in our freedom to choose to help others. Jesus said no one will give up everything without also gaining it back a hundred fold. You see, in giving us the freedom to choose, God has given us the possibility—and the invitation—to create goodness in a dark world and find lasting joy in the process. As Christ-followers, we also know that we can gain the victory to love others because he first loved us.
But this fact doesn’t only apply to Christians. It’s a reality woven into the very fabric of humanity. It’s as much a part of our make up as our hair color or height. To deny this, like what has been in vogue since at least the High Middle Ages, is to deny access to the freedom of joy and goodness that is inherent in all of us.
As this truth applies to the opioid crisis in our community, it’s clear that working to bring tangible freedom from addiction to those suffering is a benefit to all of us. Don’t you want to be a part of that purpose?
So today, who do you know that you can begin to serve in their time of suffering from addiction? Is it a coworker whose son is an addict and just needs a kind word or compassion? Is it a relative who is addicted to heroin? Or could it be a friend whose husband left because of his addiction to pain killers? Take a few moments today to ask yourself if it’s worth it exercise your freedom to find satisfaction in helping your neighbor.
Contributor Andrew Seip- YLMP Vice President
Resources: (1) Mark LiVecche, “Bound to be Free: Liberty & Human Flourishing,” Providence, No. 5 (Fall 2016): 18., (2) Ibid., 19., (3)Ibid., 16.