Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s


Reflections

A good friend of mine recently sent me a link to an article titled “Are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness Christian?”

Rod Martin, the author, ultimately states, “In short, these self-evident unalienable rights, endowed unto all men equally by the Triune Creator God, guaranteed that no man might take a life created in His image, that all men be free of the sinful oppression of modern-day Cains and Nimrods, and that each might pursue the calling God gave him to its fullest reasonable extent” (https://rodmartin.org/life-liberty-pursuit-happiness-christian/). I can endorse that.

Martin makes many good points, but I think he might have overlooked some important considerations. I do not see him wrestling sufficiently with the question of how we choose to use, life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. If I choose to squander my life in profligate ways, to use my talents solely for my own benefit, is that acting in a Christ-like manner? If I choose to use my liberty in ways which harm others or in ways which deny others the necessities required to sustain a reasonable life, is that acting in a Christ-like manner? If I choose to pursue my own happiness over and above consideration for the happiness of others, or at the expense of others’ happiness, is that acting in a Christ-like manner?

Case in point: Many argue non-payment of taxes is only good business sense – that doing so enables their own pursuit of happiness. Many take a pro-life stance while refusing to concern themselves with whether the naked are clothed and the hungry are fed. The pursuit of happiness involves far more than being fat, dumb, and happy! 

Martin cites Aristotle’s use of eudaimonia, which is generally translated as happiness. This translation is unfortunate in that it captures only a small part of what eudaimonia entails (living properly and well in accordance with the rule by which the practically wise man would do so). One may suffer adverse circumstances, e.g., Nelson Mandela’s extended imprisonment. I would not say that he was happy, but I could mount a very reasonable argument that he was living well (making his life count for the greater good), for his life and imprisonment ultimately served to bring greater justice to millions.

The Scripture lesson for next Sunday quotes Jesus as saying, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s but render unto God what is God’s.” Many go to extremes to avoid paying taxes, or begrudging give what is rightfully Caesar’s unto Caesar – that is pure, unadulterated greed and selfishness.

I wish Martin had wrestled with these questions: Would we pursue life, liberty, and happiness as Jesus pursued them in service and love to others or would we pursue them merely for our own benefit? Would we pursue life, liberty, and happiness for the good of our social order which would encompass all members of our society or would we pursue them merely for our own benefit? When we pursue them in ways which emulate Jesus’ life, I would say we are pursuing them in a Christian manner, but I would not say that in and of themselves they are Christian.

I find many pieces such as Martin’s to be attempts to dress elements of greed and selfishness in fine clothing. All too often they fail to consider the way Jesus lived and loved.

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