It is difficult to speak definitively about human rights because it's such an esoteric topic, subject to personal opinion, historical precedent, and situational ethics. "Human rights" are those things that people naturally deserve by nature of their identity as human beings. But from an entirely ethical standpoint, our only right is that of eternal damnation because of our sinful nature. When seen from a Christian standpoint, human rights are what we should have by nature of being created in the image of God. But in this regard, the only rights are to be able to multiply, use the earth, and to rule over animals—and those are rights given to mankind, not necessarily individuals.
What is a biblical view of human rights?
From a biblical standpoint, there is no "right." There is only what God intended for us to have. Half of this includes elements of a lifestyle that is beneficial to us as humans. The other half is justice.
Human rights as our God-given lifestyle
God set up society in specific ways, many of which are subtle and must be read from context. Historically, these ways have been determined through the observance of nature. When we observe, the "rights" we discover vary depending on who is interpreting nature and how their historical preferences and prejudices influence their judgment. It would be better to go to the Bible. Most of the rights identified by the lifestyle God ordained are not universal—even the ideal situation does not guarantee everyone the opportunity to partake. But, in general, these are situations that God has designed for our benefit.
- Marriage (Genesis 2:24)
- Family (Psalm 127:5)
- Opportunity to work (2 Thessalonians 3:10)
- To be part of a group for safety and identity (Numbers 33:54)
These "rights" are things that may be taken away by the side effects of living in a sin-filled world. The right to marry can be thwarted if suitable partners are beset by sin or not available, or if the object dies too young. Family may be impossible if infertility is involved. Work can be hard to find, as can a safe community. None of these things are necessarily the result of a particular malicious act, but the slow degradation of society and genetics due to sin.
Human rights as God-defined justice
This category is stronger. Instead of trying to interpret the message of nature, we can see God's justice in His word. Rights as defined by justice, for the most part, are comprised of ways in which people should not be victimized. Here are a few listed in the Bible:
- To not be murdered (Exodus 20:13)
- To not be robbed (Exodus 20:15)
- To not be insulted (Matthew 5:22)
- To not be kidnapped/enslaved (Exodus 21:16)
- To not be cheated on in one's marriage (Exodus 20:14)
- To not be lied about (Exodus 20:16)
- To not be disrespected by children (Exodus 20:12)
- To not be cheated in business (Proverbs 16:11)
- To not be victimized by society such that one's life is threatened (Deuteronomy 14:29; 24:17)
- To not be raped (Deuteronomy 22:25-27)
- To not be denied access to a place to worship God (John 2:11-12)
- To not be defenseless (Exodus 22:2-3)
- To not be denied reconciliation after apologizing for an offense (Matthew 18:22)
- To not to be barred from entering a land that is safe (Leviticus 19:34)
- To learn about God (Deuteronomy 6:7)
These rights of justice can be threatened by specific sins. It is sin to murder, steal, insult someone, kidnap, commit adultery, lie, disrespect one's parents, cheat, ignore the needy, rape, use worship space for business, attack someone, hold a grudge, and mistreat foreigners. Justice is an absolute, and God intends that everyone receives it (Isaiah 30:18).
Human rights as God-ordained mercy
When speaking of rights in the Bible, God rarely mentions what rights we should demand. Instead, He tells us what we are responsible for. This is seen in most of the laws on justice, but He also tells us to go beyond justice and into mercy. As an absolute, justice would require we all go to hell. In response to Jesus' sacrifice, we are to emulate Him and extend mercy.
- Return another's possessions (Exodus 23:4)
- Help another's need (Exodus 23:5)
- Feed the needy (Deuteronomy 24:19)
- Sacrifice your investment for another's safety (Deuteronomy 24:17)
Human rights in the Bible
In the Bible, there are very few rights we are given by nature of our status as humans, and any of these can be taken away by impersonal circumstances. Instead, God focuses on human responsibilities. We are responsible to enforce justice and extend mercy (Micah 6:8). If everyone concentrated on what they are supposed to do, rights wouldn't be an issue. We would receive what we need.
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