our “right to” anything is a house built on sand if we skip the moral foundation

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“Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise builder who built a house on bedrock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It didn’t fall because it was firmly set on bedrock. But everybody who hears these words of mine and doesn’t put them into practice will be like a fool who built a house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It fell and was completely destroyed.” – Jesus, Matthew 7:24

This morning in the WFPC men’s Saturday Bible-study we continued our conversation around C.S. Lewis’s classic Mere Christianity.

The big topic in this chapter is the idea of free will. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? But the implications of free-will versus determinism are far-reaching.

The “gun violence” issue did not come up in our conversation; but now, watching the rain and working on my new novel, I’m thinking that a discussion about free will is an important element of the gun conversation, going forward.

Free will may well create the space where profound evil can flourish, Lewis argues, but without it there is also no possibility of transformational good.

Rights AND Responsibilities:

images (2)We are so in love with our “rights” in this country – and justifiably so – that we tend to forget that we live in community; but our individual rights cease to have any real meaning if we ignore the responsibilities that go with them.

When I taught school I remember a great conversation with my classroom of deeply troubled middle-schoolers. I’d been teaching a civics lesson and one of the boys got a little carried away when he discovered the Bill of Rights.

“It says I can say what I damn well please!” he yelled with a sense of triumph. “And tomorrow I’m bringing my dad’s shotgun to school because it says I can carry it around all I want to.”

I responded (empowered by the fact that it wasn’t tomorrow yet and my student didn’t actually have the shotgun in hand) with a couple of important rejoinders:

  1. “First,” I said, “you also have the right to remain silent; I suggest this may be a good time to use it.”
  2. “And, second, there is no such thing as a right independent of its companion responsibility.”

I headed over to my teacher desk and pulled out a small student handbook. “Tell me what this is?” I asked.

“It’s got all our student rights!” one of the kids responded.

“Try reading the title for me,” I suggested.

“Student Rights and Responsibilities,” he said.

“Now look at this,” I opened the book. “The ‘responsibilities’ section is just as big as the ‘rights’ section, maybe a little bigger.”

Cue the collective groan from around the room.

“Don’t be discouraged,” I said, “I’m not trying to downplay the importance of rights. But I do want us to talk about how rights and responsibilities go together, hand in hand. Fact is without understanding and owning our responsibilities our rights are essentially worthless.”

Free will anticipates a moral grounding:

imagesFree will is also essentially worthless if we always have to be told what to do and how to behave. Likewise, the “right” any American has to carry a firearm or to speak freely, makes little sense outside a deep respect for the responsibilities that go along with it.

We do not live in isolation, we live in community. The exercise of free will must be balanced against the wellbeing of the family, the school, the community, the town, the state. Our Bill of Rights was crafted to guarantee freedom and liberty for citizens, yes, but always within the context of community.

Freedom requires trust; trust requires good faith; good faith requires selflessness; selflessness requires community:

Everything – our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the day-to-day liberties we enjoy and cherish – relies on trust and good judgment. The less we trust one another the more freedom disappears. The kicker here is that the Founders anticipated a strong moral grounding among citizens, to the extent that, given free will, we would lean towards the good.

images (1)Frankly, I believe that too many of us stand on a sandy, unsubstantial moral foundation. Absent some shoring up, this house is going to fall flat.

In other words, if we are going to insist on avoiding regulation, then we need to introduce more people to The One who came, and taught, and loved, and suffered, and died, and rose again in order to ground us in something more solid than the world has ever known, before or since – including our beloved Constitution of the United States.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:36-40

Absent a life grounded in the constitution of Jesus, the freedoms we cherish so dearly and hold on to so tightly are essentially unsustainable. Free will can lead to great good… or – ungrounded – it could destroy us.

Freedom, or bondage? More regulations, or the Great Commandment? Liberty, or fear? More law, or more Grace?

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Derek Maul writes in North Carolina

If your solution is to tightly regulate every move we make and every breath we take, then I’ll take my chances with the guns. But don’t you dare insist on your “right to”anything without first dealing with your responsibility to follow God’s law.

Seriously. The United States Constitution wasn’t written in a vacuum – DEREK

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