How are rights and love different?
September 6, 2017
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.
A reflection: The Fourth of July fireworks have been over for two months, but we still have reason to celebrate a remarkable achievement in government.
The Declaration of Independence was an incredible document, declaring 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 celebrated our rights with bursting fireworks, parades, flag- themed clothing, hot dogs and potato salad. We celebrated 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 took these rights a step further by codifying them and rendering them into laws. This too was a tremendous feat, because it created a legal basis for human rights, and a foundation upon which other human rights could be recognized.
The conundrum for many Christians is that it is easy for us to confuse the Declaration’s “rights” and the Constitution’s “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 who we are sure are violating our rights.
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.
N. Graham Standish, Senior Pastor, Calvin Presbyterian Church, Zelienople, Pennsylvania
Today’s Focus: Wisdom Journey: A Declaration of God-Dependence
Let us join in prayer for:
Calvin Presbyterian Church, Zelienople, Pennsylvania
Rev. Dr. N. Graham Standish, Senior Pastor
Rev. Connie Frierson, Associate Pastor (Pastoral Care and Adult Formation)
Bruce Smith, Director of Music/Youth Director
Toni Schlemmer, Fine Arts Director/Director of Communications
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Almighty God, give us the courage to be partners with our brothers and sisters to promote peace and justice. We pray for peace in our country and among all nations. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.