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Reflection- Human Freedom 

Our thinking about human freedom is critical to our engagement with a range of ethical issues including end of life issues. From a theological perspective, the argument is often put that God created human beings to make their own decisions, to have capacity for self-determination and to accept responsibility for themselves, including decisions regarding life and death. 

How might we understand human freedom to make decisions about a range of ethical issues? 

Although God is at work everywhere, God is at work in a way that does not set aside the decisions of human beings. In the Biblical witness, God creates human beings with freedom. Love requires freedom. Love is never compelled or forced. Freedom is the necessary condition of the love of God, and the love of neighbour. 

For Christians, the love of Christ for the world makes known to us what it means to love in freedom. True love in freedom is not about autonomous decision making but is about our capacity to choose to be for others, and empty ourselves for God and the other. This is about freedom to be fully human in the image of God. The idea of kenosis, the self-emptying of God in Christ described in Philippians 2, is a succinct summary of human freedom in the image of God in Christ.

“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-11).

Human freedom in the image of God, made known in Christ, is our freedom to empty ourselves for the sake of others in self-giving love. Although we are ‘free’ to do what we like in regard to decisions about life and death, we are fully free as a reflection of who we are in our humanity in Christ when we ground our decisions within our love of God and love of neighbour. We are fully free, and truly powerful, when we choose to empty ourselves, bearing witness to the preciousness of God’s creation, and God’s gift of life. Human freedom and autonomy does not stand apart from this notion of kenosis. This is a challenging calling for followers of Jesus and qualifies what freedom and responsibility means from a Christian perspective.


Adam McIntosh is the Associate Director of Mission: Pastoral care (UnitingCare) 

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