Freedom, Limits, and the “Right” to Happiness

Oct 1, 2019 by

by Trevin Wax, The Gospel Coalition:

Not long ago, I wrote about the American Dream turning on itself due to our changing definitions of “freedom” and “happiness.” We’ve moved away from the idea of freedom for something to freedom from everything—any constraint that would stop us from being or doing whatever we want in life.

The commonsense wisdom of our day says that we have a “right” to happiness and freedom as we define it (as long as our freedoms don’t hinder the freedoms of others). But when we expand our understanding of freedom in this way, or turn happiness into a right instead of a gift, we find ourselves out of line with the Bible’s perspective on the world.

We Are Created

Scripture reminds us we are creatures. We are created. It is God who has made us, and not we ourselves. For this reason, the idea that we have unlimited freedom or the right to all the happiness we can imagine is simply unworkable. Reality doesn’t bow to our imagination.

Consider this example. We could imagine a biological man who longs to experience the wonder and awe of giving birth, but no matter how deep his desire, his freedom is limited, and he has no “right” to the happiness that comes from delivering a baby. The possibility of pregnancy is unavailable to him. His freedom and his pursuit of happiness is limited by his sex.

We can multiply the examples of how freedom and the pursuit of happiness only work within limits. Self-help books tell me that I can be whatever I want to be, but it’s rather obvious that I will never be a star basketball player. I’m not built for that sport. What’s more, the older I get, the more my options narrow and the limits on my life become clearer. We can resist these limitations as hindrances to our happiness, or we can find freedom within them. The choice is ours.

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