Marriage shows freedom is realised in love

Without freedom, love is not possible, writes Adam Dodds.

Freedom is one of our core cultural values as New Zealanders because it promotes human flourishing. This freedom enriches human living and is rightly celebrated, promoted, enjoyed and defended.

But what is freedom? When a person gets married, does this restrict that person's freedom or enhance their freedom?

It depends - on your understanding of freedom. What then is freedom? Popular answers include ''the ability to do as one pleases''; ''lack of restriction''; ''independence''.

Freedom, conceived of as independence, anticipates that entering into marriage will restrict a person's freedom. And yet every wedding I have attended has been a happy, joyous celebration.

There is a disconnect here. Something is not right.

Understanding the nature of freedom is hugely important for personal living and the flourishing of community.

Human freedom, including personal responsibility, is a significant theme in the Bible. In the beginning God created human beings with freedom and placed them in a Garden.

God gave them fruit to eat from every tree in the Garden, except one; ''the tree of knowledge of good and evil''. God commanded them to not eat of this tree's fruit. This detail in the story is unusual, seems unnecessary, and raises questions: ''Rather than prohibit this fruit, would it not have been easier if God had not placed that tree in the garden?'' ''Is this tree's presence arbitrary or purposeful?''

Setting aside these questions momentarily, what are the most important endeavours human beings can undertake? Or, what does it mean to be human?

Jesus taught the two most important human endeavours are loving God and loving people. According to Jesus, the purpose and goal of human living is: love expressed in relationship towards God and people. We are created for community.

Love is the most potent force in the universe. A person will do anything for love. What would a mother or father not do for their child? Or consider the distances people travel to be with family or friends. Love is powerful, but what is love? Love is freely giving oneself to another in commitment, involving imagination, affections, emotions and action. Love is desiring the highest good of the other. Love for God, our spouse, family and friends, is what makes life precious, joyous and meaningful. That love is treasured so highly is evident by its prominence in prose, poetry, movies and music.

Love for God and people must be a free choice. Love cannot be forced. It is impossible (and undesirable) for me to force another person to love God as it is to force my wife to love me. Without freedom, love is not possible.

God placed human beings in the Garden to love God and people. Why did God place a tree with bad fruit in a good garden? The presence of the tree represented freedom of choice - choosing to love God entailed choosing to not eat from that tree.

God created human beings free so they could choose to love God and each other. Since love is the goal and purpose of human life, freedom is the necessary prerequisite. Freedom, a good part of God's creation, is for the purpose of loving relationship.

According to Christian teaching, freedom is good, but it is not an end in itself. Freedom is a means to an end. When this theological context is forgotten, the goal of living - loving God and loving people - is undermined. Rather than conceiving our freedom for loving commitment towards another, we exalt self to the exclusion of others. Other people become a potential threat to personal freedom, rather than personal freedom leading to human flourishing in community, realising freedom's creational intent.

When two people marry, does this restrict or enhance their freedom? It depends on the place of freedom in a person's broader belief system. According to Christian faith, freedom does not mean independence, separation from others, and lack of commitment.

Freedom is not about keeping one's options open or the ability to do whatever one pleases without being tied down. Such attitudes, which exalt freedom as an end in itself, are destructive to human flourishing.

True freedom is freedom for loving relationship, freedom for mutual commitment.

As a pastor, I have had the privilege of officiating at numerous weddings. When bride and groom marry - the ultimate human expression of binding, mutual, loving commitment - they enter into true freedom within the safety of the marriage covenant: freedom to be vulnerable and transparent, freedom to be weak and strong, freedom to be naked emotionally and physically. To enjoy true freedom, each spouse has to set aside the notion of keeping one's options open.

True freedom is not freedom from God and people but freedom for God and people - freedom for love.

God, who is love, freely chose to become human in Jesus (the Christmas story) in order to establish loving relationship with you and me.

• Dr Adam Dodds is senior pastor at Elim Church, Dunedin.

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