Combatting a Sense of Entitlement
One of the most prominent aspects of current American culture is a widespread sense of entitlement. We believe that we are entitled to happy and carefree lives without outside interference. We believe that we are entitled to own things that we can’t afford instead of waiting and saving up. We believe that we are entitled to jobs and spouses that perfectly fit our interests and desires. We believe that we are entitled to both safety and freedom. We believe that we are entitled.
For those of us who are Christians, this sense of entitlement easily crosses over into how we approach our relationship with God. In basic terms, we believe that God owes us. God owes us a good and loving marriage without too many problems. God owes us a stable and good-paying job with appropriate benefits. God owes us and our families good health and disease-free lives. And God owes us explanations when we don’t get the things to which we believe we are entitled.
I believe that it is important to talk about this sense of entitlement because it poses a threat to out ability to follow Jesus and to experience the abundant life that He came to bring. We need to find ways to combat our sense of entitlement because it is a thief. It robs God and it robs us.
Does God Owe Us?
Before getting into the ways that a sense of entitlement robs us, I want to entertain a question: Does God owe human beings anything?
Some of us react to this question with an immediate No. Of course, God doesn’t owe us anything. Others, though, might feel differently. Some would say that God is the one who created us, and therefore He has a responsibility toward us. Just as parents have a responsibility toward their children, God has responsibilities toward His creatures.
God, in His goodness, does show great care for all that He has created. But this is not because God owes us anything. It is out of His free goodness, and not out of an obligation to give us something that is owed. In fact, Scripture teaches that God creating us obligates us to Him, not the other way around. In Romans 9:19-21 Paul writes, “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?’ But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?” God, as the potter, is not obligated toward the clay. Instead, the clay is obligated toward the potter.
Similarly, Moses’ interaction with God in the burning bush passage demonstrates that God is not obligated toward us. In Exodus 4:10 Moses says to the LORD, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” In other words, Moses is saying to God, “If you wanted me to go to Egypt and talk to Pharaoh, you should have made me eloquent.” You can almost re-translate it, “You owe me a silver tongue if you want me to obey you.”
The LORD does not see Himself as being obligated to Moses. Instead, he says responds to Moses in the next verse by saying, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” God fully acknowledges that He made everyone, and He takes responsibility for our “deficiencies.” At the same time, God does not see Himself as owing Moses eloquence. He tells Moses to obey Him.
God being the creator does not obligate Him to us, but us to Him. After all, it would be impossible for any of us to be entitled to be created. Every time we breathe, we demonstrated that we owe God. When we have a sense of entitlement, we give a voice to a thief. Our sense of entitlement robs both God and us.
A Sense of Entitlement Robs God of His Generosity
My wife and I recently filled out our tax return. God-willing, we will receive a refund. I promise you that no one who has ever received a tax refund considers the government to be generous. This is for at least two reasons. First of all, when I receive a refund I am simply receiving back some of the money that I gave the government. It is not generous for them to give back to me some of my money. Second of all, when I receive a refund it is because I have demonstrated that I am owed this money based on the current laws and provisions. There is nothing generous about giving someone what they are owed.
If we think that God owes us a good job, a carefree life, a husband, a wife, healthy children, and fun vacations, then we don’t see Him as generous when He gives us these things. After all, we believe that we are owed. And if God fails to deliver on any of these entitlements, we believe that He owes us an explanation.
Anytime I think of God owing me an explanation, I think of the book of Job. If anyone was owed an explanation, Job was. He was a good and godly man, and yet God allowed him to lose his family, his health, his riches, and his position in society. Throughout the book that bears his name, Job desperately tries to hold on to God’s goodness while at the same time bemoaning the injustice of life. Job cries out to God for an explanation . . . and then God responds.
When God finally speaks, starting in Job 38, you might assume that He is finally going to tell Job why all of this suffering has come upon him. But God never explains to Job why he has suffered. Instead, he peppers Job with one consistent message: There are things that you don’t know. His message to Job seems to be, “Isn’t it possible, Job, that there is a reason for your suffering, even if you don’t see it?” God rejects the idea that He owes Job an explanation.
In fact, in His message to Job, God explicitly says that He owes no one anything. In Job 41:11 He says, “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.” When God asks who has a claim against Him that He must pay, the clear answer is, “No one!” God owes no one anything.
God owes no one anything, and yet He gives to us so liberally. He gives us breath. He gives us friendships. He gives us financial provision. He gives us a beautiful creation around us. He gives us mercy and forgiveness. He gives us promises of eternal life. None of this is because He is obligated to us. When we believe that God owes us, we rob Him of His amazing generosity.
A Sense of Entitlement Robs Us of Our Gratitude
The appropriate response to generosity is gratitude. Therefore, if God is not generous, there is no reason for us to be grateful. Because we don’t consider the government to be generous when we receive a tax refund, we don’t send the IRS a thank you note. Similarly, if we believe God owes us, then we will not thank Him.
A sense of gratitude toward God is more significant than you might think. In Romans 1:21-23 Paul places gratitude right near the core of how we relate to God: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.” In this sad passage, Paul traces the downward spiral of humanity back to the fact that we failed to respond to God by glorifying Him and giving him thanks. If we don’t thank God, it is almost as if we aren’t acknowledging His existence.
Consider what you’re saying if you aren’t grateful toward God. You’re saying either that you believe that you are responsible for all the good things in your life, or you’re saying that God simply owes you all the good gifts that He has given you. Biblically, both of these beliefs are abominable. Both of these beliefs fail to acknowledge the basic reality that God, as creator, has been generous with us. And God, as savior, has poured out even more generosity. As Paul says in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” God’s generosity brings gratitude for the present and trust for the future.
How to Combat Entitlement
I have three suggestions for how we can combat the sense of entitlement that permeates our culture. These are suggestions are in no way meant to be exhaustive or formulaic. They are simply three active things we can do in order to embrace reality as Scripture has revealed it.
- Intentionally give thanks to God. If you notice God’s generosity, thank Him for it. If you find that you aren’t really thanking Him, then set aside time to notice His goodness. Have a time of prayer in which all you do is give thanks. Journal about all the good gifts that God has given to you, just in the past month. Take time to remember that God is the giver not only of jobs and spouses and children but also of the simple joys and pleasures of life. To fight entitlement, choose gratitude.
- Remind others that they are not owed. This is tricky. I am not advocating that we take every possibly opportunity to remind others that they don’t deserve the good gifts that God is giving them. That would be exhausting for everyone, and it would probably create more resentment than gratitude. But, especially with people who are in your direct circle of influence (children, family members, close friends), seek to remind others of God’s generosity. Teach your children to say thank you, set an example with others of giving thanks, and take appropriate opportunities to call out friends who are missing the generosity of God because they believe they are owed.
- Live by faith, in light of the past. The past is important because it informs how we will act in the future. If we look back and see only loss and suffering, we are not likely to anticipate God’s goodness as we move forward. If, however, we look back and see God’s goodness and generosity, we can take risky steps of faith as we move forward. Take that step to give generously, to fight against sin, to forgive others, and to share the gospel with others. Do these not out of obligation to a God who was generous to you. Instead, do them out of trust that God’s past goodness demonstrates what you can expect in the future.