Jesus' Constitution

In his April column for the Dickinson County News, Iowa state representative John Wills shared his thoughts on the U.S. Constitution's bill of rights, writing, "I understand these rights were not given to us by our government, but instead they were given to us by our God."

I am not familiar with the god that John Wills worships, but it does not sound like the God that Christians worship, as revealed through the person of Jesus Christ. A simple comparison between the rights of the Constitution and the ethical demands of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount reveals the incredible distance between the god John Wills references and the God of Scripture.

Take for instance Amendment III, "No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner." It's a reasonable right to give, and understandable considering the abuses of the English military during the Revolutionary War.

However Jesus says, "If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you," (Matthew 5:41-42). When Jesus mentions someone forcing you to go a mile, He is in fact referencing the common practice of a Roman solider conscripting citizens to carry their bags, weapons, or armor for them. Jews despised their Roman occupiers, but Jesus is saying, "Why not give them a hand -- two, in fact!" America may grant the right of refusing to help a soldier (enemy or not), but we can't possibly call this right God-given. God expects to love and physical help soldiers, even if they are on the opposing force.

John Wills writes that the 2nd Amendment ("the right to bear arms") is a "natural or innate right," having to do with the individual right of self-defense. Again, about this, Jesus protests.

"I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also," (Matthew 5:39). The right to carry a gun and use it for self-defense (or even the appearance or claim of self-defense) has been long held in the United States. But, once again, it cannot be called God-given. God's expectation of His people is not self-defense, but rather, self-sacrifice. If we want to see how far Jesus is willing to take this idea of not resisting an evil person, all we have to do is look to the cross.

To be honest, the idea that the God of Christianity has granted humanity "rights" is slightly preposterous. That's not to say that God hasn't endowed humanity with dignity and honor through the imago Dei (Genesis 1; Psalm Psalm 8), because He certainly has. However, because of that dignity, we are given responsibilities and commands, not rights. The concept of a right puts self front and center. However, this is opposed to a Christian ethic of submission that says we are to, "Value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others" (Philippians 2:3-4).

I imagine that if Jesus were to set up a government on earth, it would be far beyond what we could hope or imagine. But I would venture to say that it wouldn't have a bill of rights. If anything, it would be centered on how we may each best serve each other, lay down our rights for the sake of another, and fight for the common good of all, even if it requires sacrifice and submission.

The Constitution is many things, but one thing it is certainly not: God-given.