Over the past weeks the spirit of entitlement has dominated our news. Despite the appalling situations of ongoing suffering in other parts of the world, here in the UK we have been caught up with the lies and cover- ups of the rich and famous and those in positions of power. Whether it’s been the dodgy vaccine exemption of Djokovic, the Prince Andrew scandal or the shenanigans at No 10, ‘entitlement’ is the word that comes to mind.
Entitlement is the sense that rights, privileges and special treatment should be enjoyed because of status. Pride of this kind leads to extraordinarily risky, immoral behaviour; people feel invincible – even untouchable, making it hard to face up to any wrongdoing. Blame shifting and apologies for hurt felt, rather than repentance for attitudes or actions taken, are a common response.
Yesterday the Sue Gray report revealed a real failure of leadership in our country. Regardless of our political leanings, we surely feel shame and grieve for our democracy, that our Prime Minister is being legally investigated. I pray that the humiliation of these days will lead to a chastened, humbler character.
Of course, not everyone in the public eye suffers from this sense of entitlement; many serve sacrificially, but pride is the temptation of us all. I’m not aware of it at work within me until I’m passed over, and feel the smarting of my ego and my hurt pride crying out, ‘It’s not fair!’
My first memorable experience of this was when I was ten years old. I had written a farewell poem for our teacher and was to read it out on the last afternoon of the school term. At lunchtime my mum persuaded me to change into my best dress and new cardigan. When I arrived back in the class, the decision had been made that Heather, the cleverest girl, should read out my poem. Of course, I was disappointed, my pride hurt, and I felt embarrassed to be sitting ‘dressed up’ in the classroom. Mrs. Owler must have understood what was happening, and covered my feelings of humiliation. She asked me to stay behind while she looked in her cupboard and brought out a poetry book to give me as a gift.
As Christians we often say God’s grace is enough, but when we don’t get what we want or our plans are thwarted, we find there are other things it’s hard to live without. Whether it’s the approval of others or something concrete like a spouse, children or a better job, there’s a feeling that we deserve better and that somehow God owes us it. This sense of entitlement will keep us from living in the love, peace and joy of the Holy Spirit.
It’s good to remember how we began our Christian walk. God took the initiative. We knew we were unworthy, unable to save ourselves. It was when we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). God owes us nothing but judgement, yet through his amazing grace, we have inherited the promised Holy Spirit, know God as our father, are with him forever and are part of Christ’s mission to the world. In Greek the word for ‘grace’ also means ‘gift’. As the Apostle Paul says, ‘Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!’
We can’t change our own hearts, but God can if we allow him to search us. He can help us understand our emotions and become more aware of lurking entitlement and self pity. As we acknowledge and confess, God like my school teacher will be quick to cover any humiliation by giving us an even deeper experience of his love in Jesus, and we will walk more humbly with him.