Christianity and Law – Duties and Rights
As Christians, we realize our guilt before an awesome God and flee to Jesus Christ for safety. The extent to which we as individuals or societies acknowledge and obey divine law powerfully affects our entire existence. Nowhere is this truth more important than in the area of human rights. According to Gary Amos, “The Biblical model of rights cannot be separated from the Biblical teaching about justice.”1 Christians believe the Bible is the only true source for discovering the rights that God confers on us. The Bible tells us we are created in God’s image, making our life of inestimable worth and meaning. Our system of human rights must be built upon this foundation. Noah Webster clearly saw the implications of this truth: “The moral principles and precepts contained in the scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws . . . All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.”2
In the Christian conception of law, human rights are derived from biblical principles. God commands us to obey divine law, and our obedience guarantees the protection of human rights for everyone. If we live biblically, everyone will enjoy the whole range of rights granted by God. If we disobey God, however, then the system of rights revealed in the Bible will suffer.
Webster explains the effects on human rights of ignoring divine law: “But as there is a God in heaven, who exercises a moral government over the affairs of this world, so certainly will the neglect of the divine command, in the choice of rulers, be followed by bad laws and a bad administration; by laws unjust or partial, by corruption, tyranny, impunity of crimes, waste of public money, and a thousand other evils. Men may devise and adopt new forms of government; they may amend old forms, repair breaches, and punish violators of the constitution; there is, there can be, no effectual remedy, but obedience to the divine law.”3
Christianity and Law – Universal Order
Divine law limits our rights as well. God commands us to act according to His universal order, not our own way. Amos delineates some limitations God gives us: “Men have rights, such as the right to life. But because a man has a duty to live his life for God, the right is unalienable. He can defend his life against all others, but not destroy it himself. No man has the right to do harm to himself, to commit suicide, or to waste his life.”4
America’s Declaration of Independence was built on just such an unchanging basis of our rights. Thomas Jefferson, its author, proclaimed the need for such a basis when he said, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.”5
Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.
1 Gary T. Amos, Defending the Declaration (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth and Hyatt, 1989), 109.
2 Noah Webster, History of the United States, 1883, Chapter XIX.
3 Noah Webster, Value of the Bible and Excellence of the Christian Religion for Use of Families & Schools, 1834, 302.
4 Amos, 117.
5 Paul L. Ford, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York, NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1894), 3:267.
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