God-given right

Published 7:51 pm Thursday, September 19, 2019

By Nathan Decker

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

– U.S. Declaration of Independence

Occasionally I’ll hear someone use the phrase, “It’s my God-given right.” Our Founding Fathers used this as a part of their argument justifying their right to revolt, declare independence, and set up a new government. Immediately following the American Revolutionary War, the phrase was again invoked by the Anti-Federalists who would not ratify the Constitution without the promise a Bill of Rights would be added to it to again protect our “God-given rights.” Today, I hear people who don’t even seem to believe there is a God using the phrase as a defense of their own policies, behavior, lifestyle and tendency to buck the system.

What are our “God-given rights”? At first glance, the Bible doesn’t seem all that interested in the rights of humanity. The context of the Bible was the experience of generous kings, despotic tyrants and a Roman republic that had devolved into an empire. But a deeper reading shows that God is indeed interested in human rights.

In Genesis, God creates us male and female in the image of God. This sets up a God-centered ethic on how we treat one another. Treating each other as God-inspired individuals of equal and divine worth changes our behavior. As Jesus would later illustrate, when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked and help those in need — we have done it to God.

In Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, God’s people are given the Ten Commandments and a long list of instructions or laws about building a community and relating to God and one another. In many ways this part of the Bible is the story of a God’s people trying to figure out how to live out what it means to be God’s people. The emphasis here was “be holy as God is holy” or put another way, “be different than everyone else.” In Christianity, the Apostle Paul called this sanctification or the way that God’s grace continually reshapes us to be more Christ-like again returning us to the image of God.

What then is our God-given right? We have been given the awesome responsibility to treat all human beings the same way we would treat our Lord and Savior, and to be treated in no less than the same divine light. We have been given God-like dominion and power over science, medicine and the environment; we are called to take care of this garden as a way of taking care of one another. We have been given one another, and we are called to develop a sacred trust as a community.

As a people of faith, Christians don’t belong to any one nation or tribe. Our allegiance is always first to our heavenly citizenship. That’s why we are always so difficult. As faithful disciples, we have a God-given responsibility to look out for humanity. It doesn’t matter how you vote, whether you are pro-life or pro-gun, or even what side of the border you were born. Because you are a human being, you are the image of God and deserving of certain God-given rights that we have the God-given responsibility to protect. So often our arguments are about what we can take from each other, let’s not forget to focus on the rights and responsibilities God gave us. After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.”

– Jesus teaching in Luke 6:31

NATHAN DECKER is the pastor of High Street United Methodist Church. Contact him at 562-3367.