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Life in All Its Fullness: Human Rights

Life in All Its Fullness: a Reflection by Robert F. Smylie

Excerpted from the Study Guide for Life in All Its Fullness 

While the Scriptures do not “codify” what the 20th century would consider human rights, the Scriptures do provide deep insight into any study of human rights from the viewpoint of God’s purposes.  The Scriptures deal with the ways humans treat each other.  They deal with the way individuals are treated by the “principalities and powers” that exist in society.  They treat with special concern the poor, the widow, the orphan, the marginalized, and the powerless.

Although “human rights” may not be a biblical phrase itself, its basic components of freedom, justice and peace are central biblical themes.  They underline the basis for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December, 1948.  As we look at the biblical message concerning women and men created in the image of God, persons for whom Christ came to assure life in all its fullness, the biblical references to freedom, justice, and peace are all the more relevant.

Biblical history is freedom history.  To be created in the image of God is to be given the gift of freedom and the awesome responsibility that goes with that gift.  Our true identity and full potential can only be realized in freedom.  Authentic and mutual acceptance in human relations is made possible in the context of freedom.

Justice is required in human relations and in the ordering of social structures, not because we thereby prove ourselves worthy by acts of justice, but because we are responding gratefully to our oneness in creation and our oneness in Christ.  Justice in the Bible is both an ethical term and a salvation term.

As justice is possible only in the context of freedom, so peace is possible only in the context of justice.  Peace involves reconciliation, trust, and wholeness.  Wholeness, i.e., life lived in integrity, security and realization of human potential is possible only in a loving, forgiving, accepting community of persons, where the value of personhood has priority over that of property, race or social status.

The biblical foundation has become so much a part of our history and thought that its influence is clearly evident in the preamble of the Universal Declaration:

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. . . .”