Thursday, September 16, 2010

One of My Age-Old Questions Resurfaces

When I spend time thinking about our country's founding documents, I inevitably end up in a philosophical catch-22.  The Declaration of Independence, and therefore the entire justification of the American Revolution, uses some phraseology with which I am uncomfortable from a spiritual standpoint.  The following provides an example.
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.
Now, much as I'd like to think it true, I don't think we are endowed by our Creator with any rights except the right to life.  And even that is not so much a right as a gift.

But the entire idea of Natural Laws and Laws of Nature and Natural Rights, etc, to which Enlightenment thinkers such as our nations founders held, does not sit well with me on a spiritual level.  We are worthy of nothing in the eyes of God.  We have no rights before God.  We do have gifts and blessings of which we may or may not even be aware.  The word, "Rights" however, implies something to which we're entitled.  And I don't think the Bible supports this.

In the history of the world, humanity has been granted by God various civic rights and privileges at various times.  Within various civic systems throughout the history of the world, some have lived free, while others not so much so.  But as the apostle Paul exhorts us in Romans 13:1, "Let every soul be subject to a higher power.  For there is no power but of God.  The powers that be are ordained by God."  Even under what may seem the most heinous civic situation, God's people are cared for and blessed according to His Good Pleasure.  We have no right to demand of our God-instituted civic body any particular freedoms or rights or blessings, etc.

At times God has chosen to use the civic authorities to grant certain freedoms or rights.  For instance, under our American system of governance, God has blessed us richly with many freedoms and with certain privileges to participate in our government.

I found the following quote from Thomas Jefferson in Glenn Beck's new political thriller, The Overton Window, which I've reviewed here.  I know there are a handful of theologians and political historians who read my blog.  There are also a handful of armchair theologians and armchair political historians; and also some readers who may not have any particular theological or historical training, but are astute and wise, nonetheless.  I'd like your input.
Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.
I've been thinking about this quote.  At first glance I cringe from it because of the ideas I expressed above.

Again, Romans 13:1, "Let every soul be subject to a higher power.  For there is no power but of God.  The powers that be are ordained by God." That seems to me to be straightforward enough.

But some well read and devout friends and acquaintances have been trying to gently lead me to see, implicit within the Biblical Commandments, especially Commandments 4-10, kind of (forgive me if I'm saying this inaccurately) an inside out endorsement by God of what we might think of today as Natural Rights such as the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, along with those rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights, and other human rights.  For instance, if we steal, we are infringing upon someone else's right to have that thing; therefore, God endorses private property.  I believe Martin Luther defends this view in his Large Catechism in the section on the Ten Commandments.

With that in mind, I can stretch my imagination to see Jefferson's statement as truly noble and insightful.  When we resist tyrants, we are protecting the rights of our friends and acquaintances to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, along with all the other unalienable God-given rights.

But I wonder, is Jefferson's idea insightful or simply "inciteful"?

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