In addressing the larger subject of “rights” – their identity, source and permanence, it seems necessary to divide the subject into two major categories.
There are rights that are derived from our position as citizens of a particular generation, geography, ethnicity, nationality, and other variables which all play into the identification and exercise of rights. These “derived” or secondary rights are not universal, nor are they permanent. They are subject to the turnings, and upheavals of the nations and the peoples themselves. What may be considered to be a “right” one day may not be a right at all the next day. In America, the highest court of appeals from which we may demand free exercise of our rights is the Constitution of the United States and our “Bill of Rights”.
So what about permanent, universal rights? Are there none of those? In other words, does mankind, as a race possess any universal rights that can and are exercised by all men and women, everywhere, in every generation and every culture? Are there no what we might call, “essential”, “universal”, or “original” rights that I can claim? Do I not have a right to life, private property, the pursuit of happiness? The answer is no, not as part of your essential or original rights. To what court will you appeal if you are killed by disease or accident in the prime of life? When and by whom were you granted such a right? Nor do you have the right to freedom from slavery, private property, happy, healthy children, financial stability, a happy marriage, good neighbors and so on. You are promised the right to none of this as a permanent, foundational, universal right. Some of these rights may exist in some form or another as a set of secondary, or derived rights but it depends on the nation wherein you exist, and on the current social-political climate of that nation. As Americans under a leftist ascendancy, we are realizing a fundamental erosion of our derived or secondary rights.
But as humans, regardless of place of citizenship or geopolitical situation, or generation, or culture, we do enjoy whatever universal, essential or primary rights we have, don’t we? Actually the whole range of universal, essential “rights” can really be boiled down to just one actual right. It is a right pictured from Genesis to Revelation. The Apostle John puts it this way: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (John 1:12). We may call this one, essential, universal “right”, the “right to life in God”. That’s what John is describing here. It is the one thing we can insist, can take to the highest court and demand that we have it – and that demand is in fact, the most basic act of faith. It is a demand that will always be honored, for He says, “He who comes to me I will in no wise, cast out.”
From Genesis to Revelation, this theme is a thread that ties the narrative of God together in a beautiful and striking manner.
Beginning in the pre-fall, pristine experience of man in the Garden, he was given this right to life, this freedom to enjoy life. He was given access to the trees of the garden, and primarily to the “tree of life” which was in the midst of the garden. By partaking of this tree of life, he enjoyed the benefit of enduring life. He had the “right” to life. He partook of that which God provided, and thus enjoyed the life of God himself. Adam did not have the ability to perpetually sustain his own life, but was dependent on something outside of himself for life. That life was his right and it was his privilege.
After the fall, man was banished from the Garden and forfeited his access to the tree of life. But that didn’t mean that the one essential, universal “right” itself was forfeited. The picture of man exercising his one basic right comes into sharp focus in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Not only is the term “right” (gr. exousia) used in John’s text quoted previously, “to those He gave the ‘right’ to become sons of God”, but repeatedly Jesus takes up this theme urging his countrymen to “come, eat of My flesh and have life in yourselves,” and “I am the Bread of life”. making both points, that man is not able to sustain his own life, and also that man has an unswerving, universal, unconditional “right” to get that life directly from God. In Jesus life, we have the tree of life, and an unmitigated right to that tree.
Finally the narrative finds it’s resting place in the end chapter of the bible where we read of those who have “washed their robes, so that they may have the right (gr. exousia) to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. (Revelation 22:14). In this scene all of the elements come together. You have paradise restored, man exercising his one basic right, his right to life in God in the presence of God and the Lamb for unnumbered eternities.
in summary, our derived or secondary rights are to be cherished, fought for, preserved, exercised and enjoyed so long as we have them. But they are not, of themselves permanent or unwavering. Like a raging beast, the pressure of “Progressivism” which is at it’s heart Marxism, which is at it’s heart, Atheism and its practical expression in Statism, always needs to be beaten back in America. It has in it’s crosshairs our cherished rights, freedoms and liberties. Thank God there is one right this juggernaut can never trample – our right to the Tree of Life, who is Jesus, This, our one true right means we will never be defeated ultimately. A skirmish here, a battle there…a right preserved here, one lost there, but we cannot lose the war.
So what are our secondary or derived rights in the end? Given that they are neither permanent nor universal, we should look at them more as privileges, or even as blessings. Every day the Father of Lights showers down His blessings upon us. We simply enjoy them, cherish them as we gather them up from the path of life. One day the path may be narrow, the blessings not so richly strewn. Who are we to murmur? We have our true right that can be enjoyed under any circumstances, any outward limitations.
There was a day when our nation was very mindful, and held out great honor to the essential “right” and to the right-giver. That’s how we as a nation came to enjoy such a richness of secondary, derived rights. That was a time that gave birth to the Bill of Rights (1791) and spoke of the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. And so it goes. When the essential right is neglected, we forfeit our secondary rights. But the opposite is true as well. Let’s make sure we’re fighting the right battle.