I am quite thankful for the Bill of Rights. I am thankful too for the suffragists of the last century that fought for a woman’s right to vote. But I’m also aware that our western view of civil and human rights are not shared universally. Even more importantly, I think they become a tricky issue when we are about God’s kingdom business. While God certainly set up a just system protective of human rights in His instructions on government to Moses, I don’t see God as overly preoccupied by individual civil rights as He calls His children to some pretty glorious roads of obedience through suffering.
Consider Joseph. His rights were certainly trampled upon. When his brothers present themselves, and Joseph has the chance to avenge the loss of his rights, he doesn’t slap them across the face and send them on their way to starve to death. He eats it. “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” (Gen. 50:20) He is in effect saying, “You trampled upon every human right endowed me by God, but God had a plan to use the very trampling of my rights to preserve His people and the line of Christ. The line of the Messiah and His kingdom to come are more important than my rights.” Then he instructs them to take his bones after his death with them, because he believes there is something coming that none of them has realized yet. THAT is the thing for which Joseph is lauded in the Hall of Fame of faith in Hebrews 11.
What do we do with the issue of our personal rights? Do we fight for them? That’s our national mantra, isn’t it? And yet, I’m confronted with first, God’s example to me in Jesus Christ. In Philippians 2, God instructs me in no uncertain terms to make Christ’s attitude my attitude. And His attitude is characterized by the fact He gave up His rights and made Himself a servant for the good of God’s kingdom. Second, I watch empirically sister after sister in Christ ensnared and enchained by bitterness over the loss of her rights. Someone oppressed her, sinned against her, did her wrong. Sometimes, bitter people are poor judges of who has and has not legitimately sinned against them. But the other half of the time, they are exactly right. Someone truly has done them wrong. The husband who slept with another woman. The Christian sister who spread lies about them. The church member who went to their pastor with a problem instead of coming to them in person. The pastor who silenced them. The government that denied them the right to vote. The Christian institution that systematically undermined their credibility and destroyed their career. Boy, that can certainly incite bitterness.
My sister and I have talked much about this. I have invited her to write a post on bitterness and hope she gets it finished soon. She was the queen of bitter women—and at least half of the things she was bitter about were legitimate. She tells me of the day the Spirit freed her from the oppressive bitterness that weighed her down constantly. She knew she had to let go of her rights. Her rights to retaliate. Her rights to anger. Her right to fight for her way. It didn’t matter if she had the ammunition to win every fight with everyone she was mad at. She was crushed by the weight of it all and fell on her face before God. It was almost like a physical opening of her hands and letting go of the weight of defending her rights. Like Peter talks about in I Peter 2, she FINALLY entrusted herself to the “One who judges justly.”
It was after this that her husband left her for another woman. I watched her walk through that bitter betrayal, and I remain amazed to this day at the freedom God granted her when she let go of her rights to bitterness and anger and entrusted herself to Him who judges justly. She wasn’t defined by her husband’s infidelity. And she didn’t have to spend her days figuring out how to get even with him or show him how badly he had failed his obligations to her. She trusted herself to God, and He worked in that situation to free her precisely through grace rather than a bitter grasping of her rights. She is one of the most vibrant, free divorced women I know, with a crazy busy life of ministry. I have watched her enslaved by her bitterness since I was a child, and now that she has the biggest circumstance in her life over which to be bitter, it holds no power over her at all. It’s beautiful.
Someone sinned against you. They may have done it in an institutional setting surrounded by people who knew better but said nothing. They may have done it privately in your home. It was wrong. It hurt dearly. It affected you long term. Your choices now are bitterness or grace. I highly recommend grace. Ladies, it’s ok to let go of your rights. You can trust the One who judges justly to perhaps defend you, but to most definitely use you as you are spent like Christ for the furtherance of His kingdom. And THAT is freedom, my friends.