Posts Tagged ‘Psalm 90’


The Limits of Freedom and the Abundance of God: On Rights and Christian responsibility…

January 14, 2013

FDR memorial

So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
(Psalm 90:12-16 ESV)

One of the remarkable facets of the American experience is that we as a people are engaged in a constant national dialogue concerning freedom and its exercise under the law.  To the generational nay-sayers who are quick to pass judgement on this era in American history, I would direct them to almost any coffee table, newspaper, blog, or news channel where the predominant topic is civil liberties and their expression in society.  The nation is humming with discussion of the Second Amendment and firearms, the Fourth Amendment and abortion, and the Tenth Amendment and healthcare.  While our founding fathers would likely blanche at the scope of the issues faced, somehow I believe they would appreciate our commitment to the laws they drafted and their place in our national consciousness.

American Christians have emerged from a period of prominence into a time of trial, and as a result we face an era of unprecedented challenge.  Christians in America are confronted with debates of staggering legal and moral complexity.  Few debates are as complex as the debate over the second amendment.  Our hearts break as we witness events like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora and Sandy Hook.  We join sympathetic voices across the nation proclaiming love and remorse over the tragic loss of life.  With increasing frequency, our free society presents us with ever-exagerated abuses of freedom.  How are we as Christian citizens going to meet these abuses?  How do we as Christians engage this debate in light of our country’s constitution?  More to the point, how do we engage this debate in light of our Kingdom calling?

Our society is constructed around the concept of a social contract, that is, our ability to enjoy freedom is predicated on our ability to coexist with each other peaceably.  In order to do that, in order to enjoy freedom, we sometimes have to be willing to give and take rights in degrees, so that our freedoms do not infringe upon one another.  (i.e. Your constitutional right to move about freely ends at my front door; or my yard.) Limits are placed on the exercise of our rights so that we may all enjoy as abundant freedom as is possible.

Now in regard to guns, practically speaking it will be impossible and impractical to remove guns from our society, regardless of what has been done in Australia or Holland or any other example, guns will always be a part of the American experience, in large part due to the 2nd amendment.  What we have to contend with now is a situation where access to certain weapons seems to be against the public interest.  I think inherent in the rights enumerated in the constitution is the idea that these rights can only be enjoyed to the fullest by a nation that values the ultimate right of the individual to live.

Sadly our society seems to value life less and less.  The founding fathers lived in a time when there was a pervasive understanding of man’s worth being from God, and that human life should be valued. (Unless you were African American or a woman, but even then there was some appreciation for their life, if not their legal standing.)  When society has broad recognition and respect for life, more freedom can and should be granted, with the understanding that people will most likely exercise their rights in favor of life.

But in our day, values have changed, culture has changed, the morals of society have changed, and not for the better.  So when we are faced with a society where individuals can gain access legally to weapons that can inflict great harm on a great number of people; I.e. Semi-automatic/automatic assault rifles with armor piercing bullets and 20-30 round magazines, we have to ask ourselves can we as a society handle that freedom responsibly?  If a large enough group of the electorate concludes that we can not, then there are mechanisms in place to restrict our ability to exercise that freedom.

Think of the debate in terms of drugs, say opium, now there was a time when there were not laws in place restricting access to opium, or cocaine.  But there came a point where we as a society recognized that while we have a constitutional right to imbibe whatever we wish, we did not have the restraint, nor was it in the public interest, to allow unrestricted use of that drug.  So our rights were limited, but for the public good. We did not ban or restrict all drugs, but certain drugs were deemed too dangerous.

When we look at Aurora, or Sandyhook we see instances where individuals legally obtained weapons that caused a tremendous amount of damage in a brief amount of time.  These gunman were not part of the seedy criminal underbelly, but law abiding citizens up to the point of their crimes.  So what everyone is asking is, are they ways that we can prevent just ONE of these tragedies from happening again?  I know that there will always be nut-cases, and criminals who, regardless of the law, will get guns and massacre others.  But is there anything that can be done to prevent even one of these events from happening again?  If, say, we ban multiple round clips, or bushmaster assault rifles could just one of these tragedies be prevented?  If you were the parent of one of the 20 six year-olds killed last month, I think you might be asking yourself the same thing.

Now I know that there is the slippery slope argument, that this is just the beginning steps until President Obama and all liberals have some firearm auto-de-fe and trample on the constitution.  However, the problem with slippery slope arguments is that the reductio ad absurdum can be used for just about any initiative on any side of the political spectrum.  (ie like when the political left argues that teaching creationism in schools will lead to a state religion, that is a slippery slope, so does that mean that they have a point?)  While these laws may not be perfect we can not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.  Simply arguing that an assault weapons ban will not end gun violence is not a good enough reason to not do it.  Simply because somewhere down the line this might be used to attempt to limit access to guns in general is not a good enough excuse not to do it.  Something is going to have to be done, for we as a society are forfeiting our ability to enjoy freedom, by exercising it improperly.  When we are facing that slippery slope, we might well ask if it would be better to build a fence on top of the hill or a hospital at the bottom.  Most agree that the fence is easier to build.

Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves as Christians, apart form whatever the constitution says, are we going to be a people who value access to guns even if that access comes with an increasing toll on human life?  If societal morals were better, then maybe we could trust society with the unrestricted right to all kinds of arms, but as I mentioned earlier society has increasingly showed that it can not handle that freedom responsibly.  A similar argument can be made in regards to abortion.  Every christian recognizes a right to privacy, but the court has extended that right to include the right of a mother to decide in private what she does with her baby.  While we Christians agree with the right to privacy in the 4th amendment, we do not think that it extends to the point where a woman can end a pregnancy and kill a child.  Constitutional law allows a woman to kill her baby, and society has degenerated to the point where this is done with frightening frequency.  As Christians, we recognize the constitutional right, but make an argument that society can not responsibly handle this constitutional freedom of privacy as the court rendered it.  Clearly it was not the intent of the founders that the 4th amendment to be extended to allow for 1 million + abortions a year.  Christian conservatives make arguments everyday that the constitutional rights of women be limited in order to protect the lives of unborn children.

Likewise, while I am thankful for the 2nd amendment and agree with the founders intent to provide society means of protection from government excess, I do not think that it was their intent that the freedom go so unchecked that thousands every year be gunned down with assault rifles and large magazine and armor piercing bullets.  So I, along with others, argue that the some rights of some gun owners be limited to protect the children already born.  It is the same principle, its the same argument.  When society can not responsibly exercise freedom, then it is the burden of the government, of the people, by the people, and for the people to make every effort to protect human life and insure the our access to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

We live in a sinful world, which by its very nature is limited by sin.  We see only in part, we live only in part, and we long for the demise of sin and the arrival of true freedom.  We must recognize our limits, and seek hearts of wisdom.  We must seek our satisfaction in God; and though the days are evil, we must display His work to others and proclaim His power to our children.  Our chief identity should not be in our rights as recorded in the constitution, but in His work on the cross.

I’d love feedback, and welcome any discussion as to whether you agree or disagree.