Americans have a problem with feeling entitled. Almost anyone you ask will tell you. But they’ll tell you it is some other group that feels entitled.
White people think that black people feel entitled because they are black. Black people believe that white people feel entitled because they are white. Religious people accuse the irreligious of flashing the entitlement card, but the irreligious aren’t listening. They are busy accusing religious people of the same thing.
It goes on and on. Poor people think someone else should pay their way—at least, that’s what the resentful taxpayer believes! And, of course, everyone knows that wealthy people feel entitled, driving around in their BMWs and Mercedes as if they own the road.
I was standing in line recently, and the people in front of me were complaining about immigrants. One of them asked, “Who are they that they should come here and act like we owe them something?” They were convinced that immigrants “expect us to bend over backwards to give them whatever they want.”
Yes, Americans are upset by the entitlement thinking of people from different racial, national, and ethnic backgrounds. But not only that; they accuse members of their own race and ethnicity of having an entitlement mindset when they belong to a different generation. Older Americans complain that “These kids today think that everything – healthcare, education, even income – should be handed to them on a silver platter.”
But it’s the older people who feel entitled, say younger Americans. Older people have no idea how hard it is today. When they got out of school, they had good-paying jobs waiting for them. And they didn’t have a hundred-thousand-dollar school debt hanging over their heads. Life was a cakewalk back then; today it is a minefield.
The reality is that an entitlement mindset can be found in people from every generation, race, and ethnicity. We can find it anywhere, in slums and in mansions, in prisons and in university halls. We can even find it in ourselves.
An entitlement mindset does not look good on anyone, but it is positively hideous on a Christian who claims to be “saved by grace.” Entitlement is the antithesis of grace. The mindsets that go with each are incompatible.
Christians are taught that life itself and the blessings that accompany it are gifts. The Teacher said in the Book of Ecclesiastes: “When God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God.” That health and wealth are God’s gifts is a recurring theme in Scripture. To recognize them as such is a safeguard against an attitude of entitlement.
The Apostle Paul strongly opposed the entitlement mindset. In his Second Letter to the Thessalonians, one of the earliest documents in the Pauline corpus, he wrote, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Paul himself worked two jobs to support himself and his ministry. He instructed Christians to work hard so that they could help others and “not be dependent on anyone.”
No one better exemplifies the anti-entitlement attitude characteristic of Christians than Christ himself. An early hymn to Christ puts it this way: “…though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
The way Christians see it, the one person who truly is entitled – since “all things were created through him and for him” – is the one person who carries no sense of entitlement. Quite the opposite: he willingly relinquished his own prerogatives and “gave himself” for the good of others.
Anger towards those who have an entitlement mindset is frequently fueled by the fear that some good to which we are entitled will be taken from us. How subtle is this attitude of entitlement and how difficult to escape! The way out is not political or social but theological. The way out is the way of Christ.
(First published by Gannett Newspapers.)