On Rights and Duties

One of the great problems with modern society is its insistence on our rights. Hardly a single major issue—moral, social, economic, political—does not center on the question of rights. The right to state-sponsored university education. The right to marry whom one pleases. The right to life—or its nemesis, the right to choose. The right to a minimum wage. The right to self-fulfillment.


I have wondered recently if the world wouldn’t be a better place if we abandoned this notion of rights—and instead focused on doing our duties.


Rights, no matter how steeped they are in reality, are necessarily self-centered: I deserve this. This is owed to me. Duties, contrarily, are others-centered: They deserve this. I should do this for them. A subtle shift in pronouns, a radical shift in lifestyle.


Consider marriage. A husband who demands his right to sexual intimacy with his wife swiftly becomes domineering, egotistical—and the sex becomes joyless, passionless, loveless. A wife who demands her right to conversation turns to nagging and manipulation. The marriage succumbs to bitterness, resentment, distance. But if each would think of his or her duty instead—how would the marriage be different? The wife offers herself willingly to her husband, because she delights in him and longs to be a delight to him; the husband sets aside time to connect with her emotionally and spiritually, because he loves her and wants to express it tangibly. They both experience love, giving and receiving it; they both remember the joy that brought them together at first.


Seeking our rights seems right to us, but in the end it leads to death (Proverbs 14:12).


For Christians especially, all this talk of rights should be anathema. Think of our Master for a moment. Which of his rights did he cling to? To worship? He made himself nothing and clothed himself in frail obedience. To honor? He was despised and rejected. To devotion? He was abandoned and denied by those who knew him best. To life? He laid it down for the sake of his children.


How can his children, ostensibly walking in his footsteps, do any differently?


In Christ, we have earned the right to persecution, martyrdom, denial of self, our own cross to carry. Let us do our duty cheerfully and bear our cross joyfully.

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