Posted by: 15shekels | December 11, 2009

Free Indeed

Americans love rights. We love our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We love our right to freedom of speech, our right to bear arms, our right to a fair trial, our right to remain silent.  We have built this country upon the concept of human rights and human freedom. And how wonderful, that we are protected by the law from various forms of harm.

The concept of human rights is the great unifier in this country. It is common ground for Americans of different religious and political views. We debate who is a human and what is a right, and we disagree on why we have these rights — theists believe we are inherently valuable because God created us and loves us, whereas atheists ground the idea of human rights in various other things, such as social contract theories — but we generally agree that human beings deserve certain protections and freedoms.

In fact, we have grown so entitled to our various rights that we lash out when we feel they are violated. Did you fall on uneven sidewalk? That violates your right to walk safely on a city sidewalk. Sue the city!  Did your son suffer an injury while playing football? That violates his right to be trained to protect himself when tackled. Sue the coach, and the school!

This sense of entitlement has expanded to the point where most Americans actually believe they have rights before an omnipotent God. We approach God with a fist closed tightly around our rights.

“Ok, God,” says the inquiring American, “I don’t know if you exist. But if I am going to believe in you, we need to get a few things straight. I have rights. And there are certain things I’ve heard about you that I think violate some of my rights. I want a good answer for why you allow suffering in the world. I want to know that there is no hell, because the idea of it makes me uncomfortable. Furthermore, I don’t think I can believe in a God who has absolute ideas and rules about money or sex. I have a right to choose my career path. I have a right to use my body how I wish. I have a right to call the shots. If you are cool with all of that, I’ll consider believing in you.”

We are so puffed up with entitlement that we approach God like a job candidate whom we don’t intend to hire. The Judeo-Christian God seems to encroach upon our rights, and so we choose to believe in a non-interfering “life-force” or in nothing at all.

Now, a relativist will disagree with the following statements, but I put them forth anyway. To me, logic decrees that:

  1. Either God exists or He doesn’t.
  2. If God does not exist, we can certainly choose which qualities to attribute to our imaginary God, but we are simply creating an impotent, imaginary friend.
  3. If God does exists, He is who He is, and we cannot choose which qualities to attribute to Him. God is not a Build-a-Bear we can stuff or a doll we can dress.
  4. If God exists and is all-powerful, all-knowing, and cares about how we live, He probably gets to make the rules and decide what rights we have before Him.

We have to choose which camp we’re in. We can say that we don’t want anything to do with a God who allows suffering, like Ivan in Brothers Karamazov: “It’s not that I don’t accept God, Alyosha, I just most respectfully return him the ticket.” (Dostoevsky, Brothers K, page 245). We can choose to reject a relationship with Him. But either He exists or He doesn’t. And if He exists, we have to deal with Him as He is.

The problem with approaching God with conditions is that we forget that before Him we have no rights. God created us out of love, gave us free will, and gave us paradise. And we blew it by choosing to put ourselves first, by choosing to play God and turn from him:

“There is no one righteous, not even one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:10, 23)

God is perfectly holy. We, on the other hand, are sinful and bound for physical and spiritual death. And worse, the Bible says that all of the suffering, evil, and mistreatment in this world (without which we wouldn’t need rights), are our own fault. We have made a total mess of things with our free will, and we deserve to die. Do you see how foolish we look when we approach God with an air of entitlement?

And yet thankfully God doesn’t treat us as we deserve: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

The gift of God. God chose to rescue us from our predicament by sending Jesus to take the sins of the world onto himself and die so that we could live. Speaking of violations of rights: Jesus lived a perfect and sinless life, and was the only one who ever lived who had a right, before God, to eternal life with God. And yet he suffered torture, death, and separation from his father out of love for us. Because he did, we have been given a gift, a do-over, a new life. But we have been bought at a price, and God wants our full devotion, our full hearts. We can still be uncomfortable that God allows suffering or that there is a hell. We can seek His wisdom on these things. But we must allow the possibility that our understanding is finite, and that God knows more than we do.  Unless we lose that sense of entitlement, we will be lost. Without humility, we will never come to Him at all.

If God does not exist, then billions of us are fools and have devoted our lives to an illusion. If God does exist, then there are certain truths about Him. And if Christianity is true, and God has intervened in human history to rescue us from ourselves, out of love, then we owe Him everything. We have no rights before Him. But we forget that God isn’t a flawed and sinful human from whom we need protection. By following Him we may experience suffering, and we may even forfeit some rights. But we are bound for the promised land, bound for glory, bound for eternal life with our wonderful God. Some things are better than rights.

“Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” -John 8:34-36

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Responses

  1. Spot on! This is the attitude I have encountered among those who pretend that they are atheists: “if God doesn’t meet the criteria I define then I will not believe in him.” In the Bible Christ is frequently referred to as our King as in this Advent season our King is coming. Jesus refers many times to the Kingdom of God and we pray in the Lord’s prayer for “thy Kingdom, come.” Surely in this Kingdom we are subject to His rule and His “will being done.” Our “rights” or demands upon God in this context are really just self-delusional: we are really making ourselves out to be little Gods. We fool ourselves into thinking that we are ends unto ourselves. God is speaking to us but we refuse to listen. We are hiding from God in the Garden (is not the Garden the same thing as the Kingdom?)because we are ashamed. We are indeed slaves to sin. And yet our salvation is at hand. I love the way the Christian annual cycle ends with “Christ the King” and then begins with Advent as we await our King as it reminds us of our true position in the universe and the path to true freedom.

  2. I totally agree! You said it better than I did, Roger—He is King. And we have been given the gift of the opportunity to be his subjects (and his children!). In the end, I think the semi-cheesy Christian song nails it: “Better is one day in Your courts, than thousands elsewhere.” We can insist upon remaining outside the gates, where we are autonomous and “free.” But ironically, it is outside the gates of the kingdom that we are slaves, slaves to selfishness and sin. What a sweet paradox—that when we lay down our freedom at His feet, He hands us the true freedom we have never had.


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