By Edwin Crayton/Opinion
Animals have rights. People have rights. Trees have rights. And we are all being made aware that Planet Earth also has rights. But does God have rights? And if so, what are they?
What is a right in the first place? According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the definition of a right is: “The interest in a claim which is recognized by and protected by sanctions imposed by a state, which enables one to possess property or to engage in some transaction or course of conduct or to compel some other person to so engage or to refrain from some course of conduct under certain circumstances, and for the infringement of which claim the state provides a remedy in its courts of justice.” Whew! Of course, if you wanted to quickly grasp all that, you would almost have to be a lawyer. Well, I am certainly no lawyer. But as I understand it, what it all basically boils down to in layman’s terms is this: a right is a privilege backed up generally by a law and enforced by an authority capable of ensuring that privilege is honored.
In today’s world, rights are often confused with choices. Merriam Webster defines a choice as: “The act of picking between two or more possibilities.” Choices are not always backed up by law or authorities. For instance, you have a right to know how much you have in your bank account. If your bank does not comply, there are authorities who can make them do so. However, if you make the choice to make a withdrawal by grabbing a gun and robbing your bank, you will not be backed up by authorities. In fact, you will be jailed by them. Choices can become rights when people organize effectively and lobby their government to make it so. This has happened in nations all over the world for centuries. The results are not always good. Who has the last word about rights? Who decides what can become a right? In America, the U.S. Supreme Court has that power. Yet Christians believe there is a higher authority than even the Supreme Court. We believe our Bible when it teaches that God Almighty has the last word on what is right and also what is a “right” and what is not. It takes a being who is 100% morally pure to decide what is right. Only God qualifies. God overrides all human courts and his rulings are always just, and final. When there is a conflict between God and man, Scripture compels us to obey God, not man (Acts 5:29). And yet, you wouldn’t know that by observing how humans react to God’s commands. Ironically, that is even true of many who “say” they are Christians. To illustrate this, I’ve sketched out a few brief examples of how we view our rights, contrasting that with how we view God’s rights.
In America, we practice a legal principle known as the Presumption of Innocence. This means that everybody accused of a crime is considered innocent until proven guilty. Does God get this benefit of a doubt too? How many times do we ask why God allowed something bad to happen when we are victimized or witness a tragedy? Without a trial or evidence, many of us convict him and sometimes vow never to speak to or listen to him again. Or consider copyright laws that protect the creative property or ideas of the inventor, writer or creative person. You see the warning when you slip any movie into your DVD player. We send people to prison for tampering with other people’s intellectual property. But what about God’s creative properties? Are they also given this protection? The Bible itself warns that false prophets tamper with God’s Words all the time (2 Peter 3:16-17, 2 Timothy 4:3-4). They change God’s words, sometimes creating their versions of the Bible. This causes people to stray down the wrong moral paths, resulting in sin and sometimes, unfortunately, their damnation. It’s quite serious. Copyright infringement? You bet. The worst, most lethal kind because the lies of false prophets harm people who are ignorant of the truth.
Similarly, we have other laws in this country that protect a person from false statements that injure a person’s reputation. These are known as defamation laws and libel laws. But do we have such a law to protect God’ reputation and honor when heretical religious denominations accept and even promote sins in his name that he has clearly condemned?
What about property rights? As owner of your possessions, you have rights over the things you own such as a house, car, household items, vehicles, food, clothing, personal technology, etc. You get to use these things as you see fit. For instance, you can invite guests to your home, or expel them from it, if they should get out of hand. No sensible person would enter your home and try to take over. But the world is not populated only with sensible people. That’s why we hire thousands of police officers nationwide to make sure you maintain this right. Yet, the Bible tells us that God owns the whole world. He is the sole proprietor—including the animals and humans who populate it. Although he has graciously given mankind the free will to make choices, he has also made it clear from the very beginning of the world that bad choices come with consequences. And he dishes out the consequences. But do we accept this as a reality? Short answer of course is no. Ironically, God is the one owner whose ownership rights are always being contested by humankind and the devil. For centuries we humans have abused God’s gift of freewill by treating our choices as if they were rights. God has made it clear that only the choices that he approves of will be blessed by him. Those choices he does not approve of bring problems and injure the soul. Again, God, not the courts of man, ultimately determines what is a right and what is not.
Since 1966, police officers in the United States have had to read all suspects their Miranda rights. These rights inform each suspect that he or she has the right to remain silent and to have an attorney appointed for them if they cannot afford one. After considering how we’ve abused God’s rights as sovereign lord, it is tempting to think he should get a lawyer. God doesn’t use lawyers. He uses Christians who love him to witness of his goodness and correct misconceptions about him and his Holy Word. It’s our job as believers. Does God have rights? God has all the rights. But the fact is, he does not need them. Rights were created to protect us mere mortals from other mere mortals. Because God cannot be harmed– especially by mortal beings– he has no need for rights as we know them. He has something much greater: awesome power and total and complete control of all things. He speaks and what he says comes into existence. He will reign eternally. Sure, it does not seem that way now, when you look out your window and see the increase in rebelliousness towards him and his values. But one day, Jesus will return and begin a new day for the faithful in which we will live eternally with God. When Christ returns, he expects to find believers not waiting around idle, but busy doing the work of the Kingdom, loving, serving others, witnessing, teaching and spreading the Gospel, and living godly lives despite persecutions and the troubles that result from living among unbelievers who are often hostile to God and his people (2 Peter 3: 9-13). As persecution becomes more intense, we believers are expected to submit daily to God’s will and teach our children to do likewise. Yet, the reality too is that many people will not listen to the call to repent and will continue to turn sins into rights, unaware that doing so will only ultimately lead to their own self destruction. The Bible says, it is not God’s preference that any person should perish (2 Peter 3:9). He wants us Christians to reach out to the lost, warning them and sharing the Gospel with them. Our love for them should compel us to pray for them to repent, turn to Jesus and receive the gift of salvation.
One day, I saw an insightful church sign that read, “Having a right to do a certain thing does not make the thing right.” Being in God’s will is something you can always count on to be right. Which is why having Christian faith is even better than having rights.
“For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” –The Book of Romans, Chapter 14, Verse:11
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