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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Gifts with Strings Attached

Who owes us “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”: (a) Our Creator? (b) Our country? (c) Our community? (d) Our family? Where do you go to find these things, especially happiness? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 743).

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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.... (The Declaration of Independence).

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are needs created in the heart of humanity by our creator. Sometimes it seems strange to think that needs are a gift. Surely some kind of surfeit must be a gift. And gifts, we think, should not have strings attached; but clearly the attainment of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is shrouded in a matrix of strings. God in his grace gives us dignity by instilling in us this need; it is up to us to seek and find how this need can be met. An accommodating government is a necessary though far from sufficient instrument in helping to fill this need. Many other institutions are also needed – the family, the church, the private sector graced by entrepreneurial creativity. The largess of government comes replete with strict limitations imposed on its citizens to ensure that needs are universally met, and not just met for a few. ”Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” inherently imply a significant degree of individual restraint. Too often we think that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are like gates opening up to the plains of full abandonment. We come to find the hard way (and too often tragically) that we need the structure of home more than we need the abandonment enticing us with the delusive urge “don't fence me in.” Too often we have a lust for liberty and not a love for it.

Thus we find that the defining needs of man are gifts of the creator. But we find these gifts have little resemblance to the new-found notion of entitlements. The story goes that as Benjamin Franklin emerged from Independence Hall at the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 18, 1787, a woman asked him, “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”. Mr. Franklin replied, “A republic, madam – if you can keep it.” (Source)

There is a sense in which the Constitutional Convention owed the American people a republic; but the greater truth is that this gift comes with great responsibility and the need for discipline – above all the discipline of humility. In short, what the founding fathers gave us was a “honey do list” without end and without a completion date. Likewise, God's gift to humanity of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is a “honey do list” with no end in sight. It is a gift requiring tremendous effort and the tremendous grace of God.

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