by Randy Kosloski
I recently completed some training to help me assess threats of violence in schools. In the class we carefully examined several school shootings and attempted to determine what may have been occurring in the lives of the assailants around the time of their attacks.
We accessed their “justification”: how and the extent to which a potential attacker has justified his or her violence with “reasons.” We also linked their justification to “entitlement”: the belief that they are somehow entitled to more than they have.
As I pondered these concepts, I realized they are analogous to my relationship with sin. I often justify my sin because I believe that I am entitled to things that are not currently in my grasp. I consequently view sin as a fair settlement made to me for not having that which I desire and feel I deserve. It is as if I am telling God, “When I get what is coming to me then I will give up the sin. So make with the blessing.”
This kind of thinking is widespread in our society today. For example, I knew a man named Roman who seemed to have this attitude, although I didn’t realize it at first. In the beginning, I found him fascinating, not because he had interesting issues, but as a matter of fact, he had a lack of issues. His only real concern was a social anxiety that he had developed of late, which made it hard for him to make friends. Since he had just moved to a new city, he felt lonely. He was a Christ-seeker and honestly wanted to make things better—not only better, but right.
Yet the more that I talked to Roman, the more I uncovered his underlying sense of entitlement. Together, we began to realize that he was actually irritated by people, which caused him to develop social anxiety. He avoided people because he would very quickly get aggravated with them and then feel trapped in conversation, afraid to convey his feelings. He also seemed annoyed that others were not immediately enthralled with him. Being forced to work in order to gain their interest exasperated him. It was clear that his anxiety stemmed from his irritation, and consequently, his irritation came from his feeling of entitlement.
The elder brother in the Prodigal Son parable had entitlement issues, as well. The elder brother seems to be steadfast and reliable. This also described Roman. In the church and with his family, he did what needed to be done, and like the elder brother, Roman did it out of a sense of duty, considering it his prerogative to receive a reward.
The elder brother is just one example in the Bible; there are many others. David felt entitled to a beautiful woman and took her as his own. We know he later committed murder to cover it up. Entitlement can take us to some dangerous places.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold felt entitled to something they did not have which in their minds justified one of the most heinous acts in American history: the Columbine High School massacre.
Roman’s sense of entitlement was more subtle; however, his desire to be at ease caused him to pull away from others, and had other consequences. Roman did not want to work in developing relationships; he thought that they should just happen because he was a decent, hardworking guy. He became increasingly angry with God, and he was taking it out on the people around him.
He was obviously lonely and unable to change his situation by himself. He needed to learn that God would have taken care of him then, and always. He needed to live with a sense of gratitude rather than clamoring for what he thought he deserved. Having more of the mindset Job had would have greatly benefitted him, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10). This would have freed him from his demanding attitude toward God.
But there is a demand on us, as well. We must throw aside our perceived rights and do what God asks us to do, regardless of the cost.
John Piper, in his book Desiring God, talks about how the act of Christ being placed on the cross stripped Him of all of His rights and that is why people spat on Him and threw things at Him. Piper goes on to say this was because, according to Roman law, Christ ceased to be a person once He was on that cross.
Likewise, I must symbolically lay aside my rights, accept my duties and seek my place in this world without demanding my rights. Then I may truly be able to see the work that God can do through me and in me.
I am inspired by the cross, but I am not always convicted by it as I should be. To lay down my rights and give myself to the Lord regardless of the cost is a hard lesson to learn. Entitlement is not seen as a bad thing in our world, and yet, it is not Christ’s thing. Christ’s model for us was to lean on God for all we need, rather than to claim what we feel is rightfully ours. But like “Star Wars’” Yoda said, you have to “let go of all you fear to lose.”
Dying to self has to mean that we die to our entitlements and let God direct the new spiritual being that is birthed within us.