The Right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

3The Messiah shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; 4but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.
Micah 4:3-4; Isaiah 2:4

As you enter the church building by the chapel, have you noticed the newly refurbished bronze plaques commemorating members of National who gave their lives in WWI & WWII? As I write these words, it’s Memorial Day – a day to pause and remember those who freely gave their lives serving the nation we love, in order to preserve the rights of all of us. The most fundamental and unalienable rights they died to preserve are not spelled out in the Constitution, but in the Declaration of Independence: the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
As we all sadly know, in the past two weeks, over 30 people of all races and ages in Buffalo, Laguna Beach and Uvalde have had this right stolen from them with lawmakers unable to agree on how to stem this uniquely American (at least in the civilized western world) kind of slaughter. Part of the political difficulty lies in the discussion over competing rights, including the second amendment right to bear arms. I do not see it as my job as a pastor to propose strategies for political solutions in this impasse. Rather, my job is to inform my congregation of the Biblical principles that should underlie and be brought to bear in our thinking as Christians about our civic duties – as citizens of two kingdoms: heavenly (the kingdom of God) and earthly (the United States).
So, as food for thought and prayer in these painful days, here are, as a citizen of the Kingdom of God, the Biblical principles I use to undergird my own thinking when I am called to act as a citizen of the United States:
I. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is profoundly Biblical. Said Jesus about “life” (John 10:10): “I have come that people may have life and have it in all its abundance.” And in the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:1-12) Jesus spells out his passion for our “happiness” and joy (though his path to this happiness is not through the channels one might expect, but through being poor in spirit, mourning, meekness, seeking right-relatedness, mercy, transparent motives, making peace, and expecting opposition). Unless another right is shown to be as Biblical as this one, then this is the right – the right stolen from so many innocent children and people of color in recent days and years – that stands at the top of my list.
II. The matter of bearing and using arms is never seen in Scripture as God’s passion but as a necessary evil. God does not visualize the future as a time when everyone has arms, but his passion is for the opposite: a day to come when people feel safe because all weapons “are turned into ploughshares.” However, in a world in which evil is real, the matter is not only politically complex, but Biblically complex, (which doesn’t sit well in our social media sound-bite society):

In Jesus’ contacts with enemy Roman soldiers, Jesus never told them to give up their arms: the military use of force as an arm of government seems to have been seen by Jesus as a legitimate calling. And the rest of the New Testament agrees (e.g., Luke 3:14; Acts 10; Romans 13:4).

For individual followers of Jesus, however, he clearly rejects the use of force to bring about “divine objectives”:

  • In Jesus’ day, this was the path of a group known as the Zealots, who planned to turn their earthly kingdom (Judea) into God’s kingdom (the Kingdom of Heaven) by fighting the oppressive Romans occupiers with weapons of war. Jesus had no time for this (as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the martyrs of 2000 years of church history understood correctly: resistance, yes, by peaceful means and with a willingness to suffer) …
    • On one occasion (Luke 22:35-38) Jesus told his disciples to expect tough times ahead: and in a figure of speech he told them to go buy a sword – BUT when his disciple Simon Peter took him literally, Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Enough (“don’t be stupid”)! Later, the apostle Paul would add that “the weapons of our warfare are not of this world” (2 Cor. 10:4); and that the legitimate sword to wield is the “Sword of the Spirit” (God’s Word), and our legitimate shield, faith (Ephesians 6).
    • On another occasion, Simon Peter (who, true to form, somehow missed the figurative nature of Jesus’ message of Jesus about swords) actually had a real sword with him in the Garden of Gethsemane. However, when he pulled out this sword in order to defend Jesus from arrest, torture and death, Jesus told him not only to put it away, but that this was not “the Jesus path to life” at all. Said Jesus: “Those who take up the sword, will die by the sword.” (Matt. 26:52). In today’s world, Peter would have had a gun, and Jesus would have said “Those who take up the gun will die by the gun” as if to say: “Instead of making the world safer, there’s a greater chance that you will unintentionally become a victim (and agent?) of death.”

So, friends, in this painful week, not long after the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness has been stolen from the lives of so many innocent children, let us not let the pain subside before we pray about our hearts and minds as Christians and as citizens. Pray for our fellow citizens: families in their inconsolable grief. Pray that we may “think Christianly and Biblically” about the laws of our land and the soul of our nation. And pray for our leaders, that we and they together might give our lives as fully as we can, and as others have done for us, to broaden and ensure the rights of all to pursue life, liberty, and human happiness.
Glad to be your pastor,