The exercise of human freedom actually defines us in selfishness or love and determines our eternal destiny. We are a mix of both selfishness and love, but we must be fully freed of our selfishness that keeps us outside of God and the Kingdom of his Spirit. The human will was made to abide in God so that it could receive the fullness of life and happiness and gain true and greater freedom. Freedom is dependent on real goods, not illusory ones. Freedom is dependent on truth. Without truth, freedom cannot even come into existence or have something real to choose. This is why Jesus said, “If you continue in my words…the truth will make you free” (John 8:32).
The trials and chastisements God permits, and even sends, are not because God hates us. God is love and loves us more than we love ourselves. He revealed this in Christ. Chastisements are aspects of God’s providence within creation and they are difficult to understand by reason alone. Their understanding requires faith and revelation because God’s ways are so high above ours. By faith we must accept that God is love and that God wills that the souls of all men be saved. Otherwise trials and chastisements become incomprehensible to rational creatures. Ultimately, trials and chastisements are about us facing our selfishness and choosing to love so that we grow in virtue. Yes, easy to say but hard to swallow.
This brief essay attempts to make it more digestible as a summary of faith and human meaning. The brevity requires the reader to give the benefit of charitable interpretation. It is written with a greater emphasis from Greek Patristic thought than modern rationalism.
Freedom enables growth in virtue
We are blind to our selfishness in the small things of daily living and these lead us into the bigger and worse choices. Trials call us to recognize the truth about ourselves, our dependence on God and others, and to turn from selfishness so as to grow in virtue. This is why virtue is initially hard to develop. We have to work against the weight of accumulated selfishness from daily failures, small and large, before we really learn to love in truth. Through the struggle against selfishness, which faith in Jesus’ love enables us to undertake, learning to love and abide in love eventually becomes more clear and easier as Christ’s virtues develop in us through the process of the struggle.
In the spiritual order, as a being in time, you must be striving to grow in love or you necessarily return to selfishness because of the power of flux, the power of time. During this life-long development in Christ to which you are called, you always feel a bit of pull to your old selfish ways. This experience of pull to old selfish ways is inherent to an intellectual being’s experience of time. In some way the present carries the past until we are freed more fully by the virtues of Christ. This is why forgiveness of ourselves and others for Christ’s sake is so important, too, if we wish to begin the real journey of admitting our need for healing and real growth.
God is love. The virtues stabilize us in God because they are forms of love. For this reason formation of the virtues within us bring us to abide in God. The virtues need freedom and opportunities for free choices, especially difficult ones, so they can develop and can give us stability in what is good and good ways of being. Without trials, and given human nature now, our freedom would only be used for constant selfishness and we would never come to know our hidden selfishness that keeps us separated from God and from living in his will. God’s will is true life and true freedom and opens us to greater freedom.
God’s plan requires human freedom’s cooperation
God respects our freedom because only in freedom can our likeness to God grow and become real and life-giving through actual choices of love. It all centers on the use of freedom so we can grow in virtue and actually abide in love if we are to be saved from unending selfishness. We must cooperate with God’s plan that he revealed in the life and death of Jesus and either let God live in us or block him by the refusal to live for others…the refusal to love as time offers the chances. Chastisements or trials must never be seen outside of God’s attempts to save us and break cycles of sin so that we can be saved. Human freedom is that powerful and that key that not even God forces it or takes away our responsibility to make good choices. If he did, then the union between us and God through the virtues, and the very purpose of freedom would not be real. Free choice makes growth into God personal, interior and real and brings about the mystery of Christ in us by a development of Christ’s life-giving virtues within us through his Resurrection and sending of the Spirit.
Since Original Sin, our sufferings are real and terrible, but Jesus, who is true God, has suffered with us and given suffering its true meaning so we would not lose hope. Our sufferings have Christ’s value for others now because through faith Jesus’ Spirit lives in us and accompanies us. Our sufferings save us and others by Jesus’ empowerment to virtue. God did not make us for death or suffering. God made us to become like him and take-on his eternal power and divinity through the proper exercise of human freedom. Ever since Original Sin, which will be explained more in the next section, God is trying to save us when he permits trials and chastisements. Freedom, love, and suffering are now inseparable. Christ revealed this mystery of the Cross through which men must now pass if they would have life: “Take up your cross and follow me.”
Our unique dignity causes demonic hatred and spiritual battles
Humans really are also in a spiritual warfare with beings that are beyond time and space, not confined to the dimensions we commonly experience. Some of these intelligent (and thus free) beings, known as fallen angels, misused their freedom at the beginning of creation. Since they never belonged to our kind of time, not having bodies, they are not able to change their disordered freedom and cannot be saved. This is not a limit on God. It is the law of freedom according to the make-up of those angelic beings. As intelligent creatures, they too were responsible for their free choices; some to salvation and others to damnation. At some ultimate choice, similar to Adam’s in the Garden of Eden, they chose their identity forever outside of time. God would have to eliminate their freedom to save them and God does not do that. They maintain their freedom even in their rejection of God’s plan. God knows he can bring greater good even out of their movements for evil.
Though the good angels love us and help us, the fallen angels (now called demons) hate us. They hate us and our destiny in God. We are unique beings, a race created to reconcile the earthly with the spiritual. Our living in time and flux makes us always capable of new synthesis, new integration, new birth, and new creation. We were made to reconcile heavens and earth by taking our lower earthly powers to cooperate in the spiritual (the intelligent and free). This is why earth responds to our sinfulness and our repentance. Natural processes like earthquakes and violent weather do not have to occur or be so destructive. They can be prevented or mitigated when we lift the earthly to God in love and true worship…living like God in the mystery of making authentic gifts of ourselves to others. We do this now by surrendering our wills to God in the gratefulness of our calling. It is especially precious to God when we fight selfish drives and desires to bring them to integration with the truth in ourselves as Christ revealed the truth about ourselves. When we do this, we form virtues and God lives through us to reconcile the heavens and the earth.
Sadly, there will be points in history when earth revolts against us, when sin is too great and must be addressed. This happens when the creatures that were supposed to be co-workers with God fail in their responsibilities. Often the innocent suffer the consequences more than the unjust. It is part of the mystery of sin. We do not blame God when our economies fall apart. We know it comes through sin and failures of love and responsibility to one another. The innocent suffer most. When the earth revolts, the human race as a whole and in various regions suffers for the failures of the human race to do its part as reconcilers of the heavens and earth in God as our nature was intended. In times of disaster we are called to love one another and not blame God. The demons wish to keep us in ignorance of this so that we blaspheme God with them in our sufferings. They want us to blame God instead of repenting of sin.
Reconciling the heavens and earth
Before the sins at our origins, the lower powers in man, the more earthly powers that are more associated with the bodily, were in movement to make our freedoms possible and motivate them as reconcilers and unifiers of heavens and earth…destined to be taken into God. Since Original Sin, initiated by the demons, our powers are now out of harmony because we do not abide in God as freedom was meant to enable it. Since sin, disorder has entered us and reigns over the world. The sense powers and the emotional powers that come from the material and earthly order are no longer integrated to respond to our intellect and spirit or rightly motivate them because our spirit is not integrated into God’s eternity, which is His Will.
Christ brought about the needed reconciliation and synthesis in his own body and human soul which, because his Person was God from all eternity, makes possible for humans to abide in God. He made possible the development of the virtues we need to abide in love and he develops them in us by the power of his Holy Spirit. Their development is a real abiding in him and him in us. Through the humanity of Jesus we can abide in God’s divinity; our human will is restored to abiding in the Divine Will…one with Love. Freedom was given to attain this truth and greater freedom. This is why authentic freedom is first dependent on truth. Without truth, human freedom cannot come into existence or develop to its true end of greater freedom. “For freedom, Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).