Yet another harangue you hear these days after the exclamation “it’s just common sense” is “we should demand our rights”. Unfortunately, we now live in the ‘entitlement’ age, where everyone wants to demand their rights, and too few people are willing to take responsibility for their actions. I can’t even go through a day without seeing maybe a dozen ads for law firms who are going to ‘help you get what’s coming to you, by right’. We are being urged to sue car dealers, sue insurance companies, sue drug manufacturers, sue employers, you name it we should sue them. It’s too bad the Founding Fathers didn’t create a Bill of Responsibilities to go along with the Bill of Rights. We need one about now.
A disclaimer is in order at this point. I’m not suggesting that Christians should just stand by and let gross injustices happen, particularly to the most vulnerable among us— the poor, the indigent, the elderly, the young, the homeless, and so on. Jesus has plenty to say about looking after the least, last, and lost among us. What I am saying is that: 1) Christians in general need to drop the whole idea of vengeance or payback for some wrong done to them. As the NT says aplenty vengeance should be left in the hands of the Lord. It would be better to be wronged as a Christian than to do a wrong to others, even unintentionally, in the process of ‘getting what’s coming to us’. At the heart of Christianity is not revenge or payback, but rather forgiveness, and note that we pray to God regularly ‘forgive us our debts’ which includes, but is not limited to monetary debts. 2) Christians need to drop entirely a sense of entitlement based on a strong sense of what ‘my rights’ are. Why? Because life, and all good things are gifts from God. They are not things we are ‘entitled’ to have. That whole entitlement attitude is simply unChristian. Let me illustrate.
We are not entitled to life in the first place. The so-called right to lifers, while nobly trying to protect the lives of the unborn, which I am all in favor of, do so on the backs of bad theological reasoning. Neither the unborn nor the born have a right to live. Life is a gracious gift from God, and it never becomes a right that we can clutch in our hands and proclaim “it’s mine, I have a right to it”. No you don’t. God is the author and finisher of life, and your life is a gift from God. End of story.
The sense of entitlement extends to the whole issue of personal liberties. ‘I want my freedoms’! I want the freedom to do as I please when it comes to carrying fire arms, or smoking dope or having an abortion or living large, and so on. This sort of freedom, the freedom to do as we please, rather than to do what pleases God, is not a Biblical idea. It just isn’t. When the Bible talks about freedom it talks about freedom FROM sin, not freedom TO sin, and freedom is given us so that we might act in ways pleasing to God, not pleasing ourselves necessarily.
The story is told by Shelby Foote, the great Civil War historian, about a group of disconsolate Rebels who had been captured by a portion of the Northern Army in eastern Tennessee. One of the Yankee commanders was having a conversation with one of the rebel soldiers and said “I guess you’ll have to give up your slaves now”. The reply was “ain’t got no slaves.” This was followed by a question from the Yankee commander “Then what are you fighting for?” The rebel stuck out his chin and said “I wants my rats”, or at least that’s how it sounded to the Northern commander. “Your rats?” he queried. “Yes sir, can’t you understand plain English, I wants my r-i-g-h-t-s.” The demand for ‘my rights’ which is always a self-centered thing has gotten this country into wars, and into a whole peck of trouble at the individual level as well.
That sort of demand for rights completely ignores Biblical injunctions like “why not rather be wronged, than do a wrong to others”. Or “Do not repay anyone evil for evil…live peaceably with all… never avenge yourself, but leave room for the wrath of God…No if your enemies are hungry, feed them, if they are thirsty, give them something to drink…do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12.17-21). In short, live a Christlike lifestyle. When you do that, you may well become righteously indignant for others who are suffering injustice, but in so far as you’ve personally been wronged, there is a more Christian way to respond than to demand your rights.