Rights or responsibilities? Dues or duties?
However, contrary to the world’s obsession with human rights, the Bible portrays a quite different pattern for society. God has placed his own carefully designed order in the world. This order does not depend on maintaining a delicate balance of conflicting rights so that everyone gets his due. Rather, it is an order which is perfectly suited to the needs of our fallen world and it is grounded, not on rights, but on a framework of duties, responsibilities and privileges.
One area in which the difference between a rights-focussed approach and God’s pattern can be seen is in the family. Allowing parents and children to have their own respective rights will ultimately lead to family conflicts as it encourages a self-centred attitude. Children will seek to enforce their rights in opposition to their parents’ authority and parents may pursue their rights to the neglect of their responsibilities towards their children. However, if the focus is rather on the responsibility of parents to care for, provide for and educate their children and on the duty of children to obey their parents, harmony will result. Parents and children will be working together rather than against one another.
In his survey of Christian doctrine, Our Reasonable Faith, the 19th century theologian Herman Bavinck draws attention to the privileges that come from being part of a family. He points out that there are many things which ‘children inherit from their parents, which they have in no way earned, and which they nevertheless appropriate without protest, as indeed they gratefully may’. In a world based on rights, it could be argued that the children have no right to an inheritance. However, in a world based on God’s plan, it is one of the benefits that accrue from being part of a family.
Changing our attitude from one of thinking about what our rights are and what we deserve to one of thinking about what God requires of us and what our duty is is one way in which our minds can be transformed so that we know the will of God and are able to present our bodies as an acceptable offering to him (Romans 12:1-2).
By Naomi Wells