Is There a Right to Life?
Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, Christian Life Resources
I never gave the phrase “right to life” much thought until I heard talk about a “right to die.” For years I have considered myself to be “pro-life” and in the “right-to-life” camp. I think that the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) is the premiere national pro-life agency in the United States. Wherever I travel I encourage others to join NRLC and its state affiliates. But as of late I have not been very comfortable with the phrase “right to life.”
The conflict stems from the reality that as Christians we are members of two kingdoms. We are members of God’s family, and we are members of society. In society our daily existence is defined within a legal system which grants rights.
Those rights were eloquently articulated by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence in which he wrote, “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.”
Of all that is written in our foundational governing documents, those words are perhaps the most well-known. In a sense, they have been the battle cry for many noble causes. For American society those words established a standard by which most other laws and freedoms are judged.
Yet, when Jefferson appealed to the Creator as the source of these “unalienable rights” he never anticipated the perversions we have today. I am sure he never imagined anyone arguing for the “right to die” as though it is the natural compliment to the “right to life.” But there is no denying it–these words of independence are today considered nearly diving in origin.
But I dare say Jefferson erred in his notion that God, the Creator, granted such rights. In fact, the idea of God granting rights is somewhat foreign to Scripture. It is not the way God revealed Himself. Rather, it is much more appropriate to think of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as blessings rather than rights.
When one presumes to have a “right” to something a person presumes a level of autonomous control. With every right there is a presumed right not to exercise the right. When I pick up sweet rolls I have the right to choose the ones I want. But sometimes I am in a hurry. I choose not to exercise that right of selection and just leave it up to the clerk. With a driver’s license one may have the right to travel the nation’s highways but he does not have to. He does not even have to drive.
So also have some defined the right to life. You may have the right to live, but, some argue, you may with to exercise the option not to.
Unfortunately our society is steeped in its notions of rights. But as Christians life is not a right for us to assume and control, but a blessing which was given to us to cherish and care for. It is God who holds the rights to human life. He expressed that clearly when he said, “See now that I myself am He; there is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life.” (Deuteronomy 32:39)
Concerning one’s own life God says this: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
In this passage life is described not as a right but as a trust given us to care for. Ownership is held by God. To use familiar ecclesiastical terminology, we are stewards over our own lives. It is something entrusted to us to care for.
The same applies to the lives of others. That principle was expressed clearly in Genesis 9:5 where God said, “…from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.” Paul expressed that same principle in a different way when he wrote,
“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)
Again, rather than viewing human life as a right we hold and over which we can do as we please, we are, instead, characterized as stewards over life. Our lives are possessions of God given to us to care for until he chooses to take his possession back.
During the time we care for this blessing called “life” we are to provide for both physical and spiritual needs. Jesus illustrated the kind of concern for the physical needs of life that we should have when he said, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)
That this life is also a time of important spiritual concerns was expressed clearly by Paul when he wrote, “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” (Colossians 4:3-5)
Because a lifetime is that defined window of time in which God brings one to faith in Jesus as the Savior (Hebrews 9:27), it is not our prerogative to terminate a life at our will. Because God reserves for Himself the right to create and terminate life, it is not ours to terminate when we desire. Because life is a blessing entrusted to us to care for, we care for it according to God’s standards and not our own.
So, Biblically speaking, there is not a “right to life.” It is terminology that has served us well for many years, but it is now raising new dilemmas. We should all be involved in the so-called “right to life” movement. I would still encourage you to be a member of the National Right to Life Committee and its state affiliates. But I would encourage you to adopt a new vernacular that frames the issues of life within the context of blessings, and not rights.