We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“Unalienable rights”: many hold quite passionately to this premise with great zeal. This fervor for “unalienable rights” and the condemnation of anyone who is perceived as attempting to limit or reduce any of these “rights” is a mainstay of American politics and philosophy. In terms of political philosophy, the idea that it is self-evident that men are created equal and thus have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was quite revolutionary and has been a blessing for many of those who have participated in the American experiment. It has proven to be as much of an ideal that Americans are still working toward as much of a declaration of the political reality Americans have desired.
Nevertheless, this declaration of “unalienable rights” is not from Scripture; it is from the Declaration of Independence. The philosophy behind this declaration of “unalienable rights” is as influenced by the Enlightenment as by the revelation of God in Scripture. While Christians might be strong advocates for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as “unalienable rights” in the political sphere, we must also keep in mind that such are not necessarily guaranteed in the spiritual sphere.
For Christians, God’s revelation through Scripture is the ultimate standard, not the Declaration of Independence. It is true that in the New Testament God has declared all men and women to be equal before His sight (Acts 17:26, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). When it comes to life, Scripture declares that God gives it, and man ought not take it away (Genesis 9:5-6). It is in the matters of “liberty” and the “pursuit of happiness” that Christians must take care not to confuse the Declaration of Independence with the New Testament.
According to Scripture, while man does have free will to follow or reject the Lord, man’s liberty ultimately boils down to the question of whom he will serve–righteousness or sin (Romans 6:15-22). The Christian’s freedom is from sin and death in order to serve the Lord Jesus, not license to live as he or she pleases (Romans 8:1-11). In Christianity, liberties are those things which are to be renounced if they cause difficulty, not something to demand no matter what (cf. Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8). Christians are to serve the Lord whether they live under a government that promises liberty or a tyrannical and despotic government (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:11-17).
While Christians are to pursue the ultimate form of happiness–eternity in the resurrection with the Lord (Philippians 3:11-14, Revelation 21:1-22:6)–they might not experience much earthly happiness. The Christian’s life will involve suffering and tribulation (Acts 14:22, Romans 8:17-18). Christians must rejoice, but their joy is not necessarily based on favorable earthly circumstances (Philippians 4:4). In all circumstances God’s will revealed in Scripture must be followed; it will not do to assume that God wants us to be happy in the way we want to be happy and thus God approves of whatever makes us happy, as too many believe.
The Declaration of Independence may be good, but it is not Scripture. Let us serve the Lord and obtain true freedom and happiness!
Ethan R. Longhenry