By Don Ruhl
Let Us Think More of Our Obligations than Our Rights
Socialism, or at least socialists, seem to be all about what others, especially the government and the rich, can do for them, rather than what they themselves can do for others.
In Mark 12, we learn that Jesus is not a socialist because He declared the two greatest commandments as being upward and outward looking, not inward looking or government looking,
Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”
Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12.28–34a).
Rights imply obligations, because rights say I have the obligation to grant you your rights. However, how often do you hear anyone speak of their own obligations? I would love to hear politicians preach the obligations of citizens. I hear people speak of the obligations of the government, the church, the schools, employers, businesses, and the rich, but I hear little to nothing about personal, individual obligations. If I am obligated to grant you your rights, are you obligated to grant my rights? Many over the years have thought the same thing,
“It is now the moment when by common consent we pause to become conscious of our national life and to rejoice in it, to recall what our country has done for each of us, and to ask ourselves what we can do for our country in return” (Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., 1884).
“The first duty of a citizen is to consider what he can do for the state and not what the state will do for him” (St. John Broderick, English politician, 1893).
“As has often been said, the youth who loves his Alma Mater will always ask, not ‘What can she do for me?’ but ‘What can I do for her?’” (Le Baron Russell Briggs, Harvard writing professor, 1904).
“The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man” (John F. Kennedy Inaugural Address, 20 January 1961).
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russian writer, dissident and activist, helped to raise global awareness of the gulag and the Soviet Union’s forced labor camp system from 1918 to 1956.
“The constant desire to have still more things and a still better life and the struggle to obtain them imprints many Western faces with worry and even depression…The majority of people have been granted well-being to an extent their fathers and grandfathers could not even dream about.”
“The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals. It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.”
General and President Dwight Eisenhower said, “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”
On the matter of material prosperity, Gregg Easterbrook wrote a book, The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. He shows how we have become enamored with self to where we have no idea how well we have it. Self-focus makes us overly concerned with our rights, that is, what everyone owes us rather than what we owe others, it does not even occur to us that we have obligations to anyone.
“Yet as your ancestors four generations removed learned more of contemporary life, they would be dazzled. Unlimited food at affordable prices, never the slightest worry about shortage, unlimited variety—strawberries in March!—so much to eat that in the Western nations, overindulgence now plagues not just the well-off but the poor, the poor being more prone to obesity than the population as a whole. Four generations ago, the poor were lean as fence posts, their arms bony and faces gaunt. To our recent ancestors, the idea that today even the poor eat too much might be harder to fathom than a jetliner rising from the runway” (p. xiv).
“Yet how many of us feel positive about our moment, or even believe that life is getting better? Today Americans tell pollsters that the country is going downhill; that their parents had it better; that they feel unbearably stressed out; that their children face a declining future—and Americans were telling pollsters this even during the unprecedented boom that preceded the tragedy of September 11, 2001” (pp. xv, xvi).
“…the citizens of the United States and the European Union, almost all of whom live better than almost all of the men and women of history, entertain considerable discontent.”
“Far from feeling better about their lives, many are feeling worse.”
“Someday if Eden is restored, people may complain about the predictable menu of milk and honey and about the friendly lions purring too loudly” (p xvi).
I would like to buy copies of his book and give it to the Occupy people!
Why Did Our Founding Fathers Not Give Us a Bill of Obligations?
No one can think of everything, and no one can anticipate every need that might come along, especially centuries in advance. Our forefathers were not self-centered people, but served a cause greater than themselves, God, the new nation, and their churches. Since the 1950s or 1960s, we have started thinking differently, believing that God and country exist for the individual rather than the individual existing for God and country. It may not have occurred to our forefathers how self-centered their forebears would become 200 years later. Can you anticipate how Americans will think in 2214? What if we attempted to put together a document that legislated life for Americans then? Could we make it relevant for today and for 2214? You can imagine the difficulties in that task, helping us to appreciate the work that they put into creating The United States Constitution in 1787!
They did a good job. Think of the change in our culture since then, yet, we still believe they gave us a good document. Nevertheless, Article V of the United States Constitution makes provisions for Amendments, because they knew a man-made document cannot cover everything, and so they made it possible to amend the Constitution.
What You Can Do
I believe that socialism is growing because once the government and insurance said they would take care of us, we stepped back and let them do it, forgetting that the Scriptures command us to bear one another’s burdens, and now we are not used to doing good works for one another. We do not even think about it.
1. What did America do before insurance and big government? We helped one another. Church members helped one another. Find someone to help.
2. Go to your doctor’s office and ask if anyone cannot pay their bill, and then pay some on that bill.
3. Watch the paper, or listen to the local news for house fires, and other disasters that people experience, and then do what you can. Not only give to the church every first day of the week, but let what was said about our Master, Teacher, and Lord be said about us, as Peter said to Cornelius, and his family and friends, that Jesus “went about doing good” (Acts 10.38). That means you will have to look for opportunities.
4. Find out what others are doing.
Jesus is not a socialist, nor a democrat, nor a republican, nor any other of man’s inventions. Jesus is a monarchist, for He is King of kings, and Lord of lords.
The Teachings of Jesus
Jesus taught that if you expect to receive, you must give. You reap what you sow. Beware of covetousness. Beware of envy. What do you want from Him?
What do you want from the church? What do you want from the government? What do you want from your employer? What do you want from your neighbor? What will you give to each of those?
Give your life to Jesus, and let Him run it as King of your life, and you might be surprised by where He takes you, but you will see the wisdom of it.