Lord, I have fallen again–a human clod!
Selfish I was, and heedless to offend;
Stood on my rights. Thy own child would not send
Away his shreds of nothing for the whole God!
Wretched, to thee who savest, now I bend;
Give me the power to let my rag-rights go
In the great wind that from thy gulf doth blow.
–from Diary of an Old Soul by George McDonald
Rights and Gifts by Alvin Rogness
Under the law of the land I have rights. The Declaration of Independence uses the words, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I have the right to hold property, to be rewarded for labor, to appeal to the courts for justice.
God gives no rights. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are his gifts, privileges loaned us for a day. God retains ownership. If we have rights at all, we have but the right to give them in service to others.
When Job was stripped of all his wealth he said, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). He was affirming that before God he had never had a right to his wealth. It had been a gift, a trust. Now it was gone. It would have been absurd for him to appear before the high court to reclaim what had never been his.
Once we understand that over against God we have no right to ownership, only stewardship, we can stop our jealous protection of our “rag-tag” rights. No longer will my marriage be a grim 50-50 contract that I guard with care, no longer will my neighbor’s barking dog send me to the police. My wife or husband or neighbor has been loaned to me for my care. I become an advocate for community and world justice, not to defend my rights but the rights of the poor and voiceless. Only as we have this turnabout will life be relaxing enough for us to have joy and peace.
“If any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matt. 5:41)
Alvin Rogness (1906-1992) was president of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, from 1955-1974.