Wisdom Journey

A Declaration of God-Dependence

How are rights and love different?

By N. Graham Standish


A Thought: We live in a nation of inalienable rights, but God calls us to live lives of inalienable love. Rights lead to rules, but love leads to life. Choose life!

Photo by Paul Anater

A Reflection: The Fourth of July fireworks are over, but we are still celebrating a remarkable achievement in government.

The Declaration of Independence was an incredible document. For the first time in history, or at least for the first time in a history that lasted, it was declared that people have inalienable rights, endowed by God, that a government should protect and defend.

The Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This statement is remarkable because prior to the declaration, the only people deemed to have inalienable rights were emperors, kings and nobility. All others were at their beck and call.

On the Fourth of July, we celebrate our rights with bursting fireworks, parades, flag-themed clothing, hot dogs and potato salad. We celebrate the fact that we have a right to live as we please, to live in freedom and to strive to be happy (whatever that means). The U.S. Constitution takes these rights a step further by codifying them and rendering them into laws. Again, this is a tremendous feat because it creates a basis for human rights, and a foundation upon which other human rights can be built and recognized.

The conundrum for many Christians is that it is easy for us to confuse the Declaration’s “rights” and the Constitutions “laws” with God’s “call.” We have a tendency, much as ancient rulers did, to turn God into a national deity who cares mostly about helping us to pursue what we want, while ignoring the pursuit of what God really wants. We have inalienable rights, but God calls us to inalienable LOVE.

Love is different from rights. Rights declare the freedoms we are given to live. Love declares the life we are called to live. Rights are basic. Love is transcendent. Rights are individual. Love is communal. Rights are fought over. Love is blessed over. Rights can divide us. Love unites us. Rights can lead people to aggressively declare, “Don’t Tread on Me!” Love leads people to humbly ask, “How can I lift you up?”

Too many Christians have turned our national heritage into a cultural religion, reducing Christianity to a fight over political positions. Those fights lead us to slowly leak love as we turn each other into ideological enemies whom we are sure are violating our rights simply by breathing.

The brilliance of the Gospel is that it calls us to place love over laws, relationships over rules, and communion over conflict. Living in love never eradicates rights, but instead it multiplies them so that what is right for you becomes right for me, and vice versa.

As Christians, our love is meant to be nation-less — to transcend nations. We are called to live lives where we strive to do more than just pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are called to love God with our minds, hearts, souls, and strength, and to love others as ourselves (Luke 10:25-27). If we do this, we give life to the world.

The Rev. N. Graham Standish, Ph.D., M.S.W. (www.ngrahamstandish.org) is senior pastor of Calvin Presbyterian Church in Zelienople, Pennsylvania (www.calvinchurchzelie.org). He is the author of seven books on spirituality and church transformation, and is an adjunct faculty member of Pittsburgh Theological and Tyndale Seminaries. He also has a background as a spiritual director, and as an individual and family therapist.


Paul Anater is a Lancaster, PA-based writer, photographer, speaker and Presbyterian. He describes his work as narrative and he uses photographs to find light in darker places. Hearing other people’s’ descriptions of what they see in his work is the final touch he needs to call a photograph finished. You can find an ever-growing portfolio of his work on Instagram.