Which Rights are God-Given?

On Sunday afternoon I was relaxing and turned on one of those athletic dog competitions on television. You know, the ones where dogs do the long-jump into the pool and weave through agility courses. Anyway, I put this on TV while I hung out and read a bit. When the show ended an infomercial replaced it. I personally can't stand infomercials, so once I realized one was coming on I got up to find the remote and turned off the television. But something I overheard gave me pause before I got the TV off.

You see, the information was for the National Rifle Association (NRA). I've got no beef with the right to bear arms, and so it wasn't like I was appalled that they were spending this money. What struck me, however, was how within the first introductory paragraph the narrator said that it is our "God-given right" to bear arms.

Wait...what?

I literally did a double-take on this.

It befuddled me - what was the basis for the claim that this right was God-given?

Which religion's writings, teachings, or by-laws claims an inherent right to arm yourself? I honestly wanted a reference because I cannot think of a single verse of the Bible, or even other religions' teachings, which would be instituting this right by God to humans.


Last night, I did a little research, and realized what lay behind the statement was another right claimed as God-given: right to self-defense.

Wait...what?

Did I miss something here?

I understand the right to self-defense. It is a self-interested element of the right to life. I have life, and so I have the right to continue preserving that life. But is this right God-given?

Historically, looking at the Bill of Rights of the Constitution, where do the Founding Fathers state these rights are God-given rights? The preamble references them as the resolution of the newly formed Senate and House of Representatives. They are the established rights of "We the People of the United States" if you go back to the beginning of the Constitution itself.

While the Declaration of Independence claims that all men have God-given rights which Britain was oppressing, it listed only Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness (which I agree with!). This document goes on to state governments exist to uphold these rights, which should not be discarded lightly, but for collective safety and happiness of the people under dire oppression it was their right to abolish and create government.

So what makes a right a God-given right?

Human rights, absolutely. But God-given?

What happens for those of us who are Christians to realize that this very question needs to be flipped on its head. Perhaps even for those who are not Christian, the wisdom found in Jesus is still applicable to a peaceful and just human society.

Flipped on its head because Jesus did not clamor for his God-given rights. In fact, he submitted himself and gave up rights for the sake of others.

Jesus did not hold to his right to self-defense. He allowed himself to die on the cross without insisting on a fair trial or that his rights were violated.

Even when Jesus tells his disciples to have a few swords among them (Luke 22:36-37), it was not for self-defense. We see this when Peter lashes out and cuts off an ear during Jesus' arrest, to which Jesus corrects Peter and restores the ear to the guard. (Check out the above link - some good thoughts by Greg Boyd)

In fact, we see Jesus speak of the Kingdom of God in terms which also flipped what the Jews of the day imagined. They imagined a physical Kingdom with a Messiah King who established it by conquest. Jesus tells Pilate that his servants do not fight his arrest because his Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).

Clamoring and claiming our rights to be held as God-given is actually evidence of people actively living out of their human rights.

We, as mere humans, have the right to make our decisions.

We, as humans, have the right to life.

We have the right to believe what we want to believe and pursue what we want to pursue.

We have the right to bear arms, and to self-defense.

We claim we have rights, and my right is all-important.

Do we see how this line of thought is completely not what God has intended? 

Got intends mutual submission; a giving up of rights for the sake of others. 

Luckily for us God does not hold to His rights in his interactions with humanity. He limits himself, submits himself, and has unfailing love and mercy that continues to give us chance after chance.

God understands our rights. It is why he created and why life continues to this day! It's why there is hope. It's why the way of Jesus is so counter to the way of the world.

To be clear, I do believe in the rights of self-defense and bearing arms. I believe also that there is a right for everyone to have access to health care. (Another topic, for another day). I'm not debating the human validity of any of these rights.

I'm saying our right to bear arms is not God-given. Our right to health care is not God-given. Our right to self-defense is not God-given.

Yet they are human rights. Can we reverse the question?

Because God wants us to give up our rights for the sake of others. While we continually tend to drift away when a new debate springs up, our quest should not be for my rights, but should be to imitate Jesus. Even the Apostle Paul understood this in exhorting the church in Philippi:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death -
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:1-11 emphasis mine)

Our discussion of rights needs to mirror Jesus.

We need to give up attempting to prove or claim our human rights and instead understand how we can give them up in service of each other!

Such is life in the Kingdom of God, which is to come but is also at hand now! Jesus came proclaiming this in-breaking Kingdom.

Not in self-defense, but in service of those who are least among us. Not out of selfish ambition, but considering others better than we are.

Let us learn how to serve one another. 






P.S. - I also think we need to give credit to military, police, firefighters, and other civil servants who have learned in our society how to live submissively and understand practically how to give up their rights for the sake of others. Obviously not as completely or perfectly as Jesus, but still an honorable understanding of this way of Jesus.