Our Just Deserts

“You deserve a break today,” the old MacDonalds ad declared. And interestingly, the idea of “you deserve” seems to have taken hold in the advertising world. At least among advertisers on Christian radio.

I hear it all the time (and I only have the radio on for a half hour a day). You deserve better than what your insurance company will give you, so contact such and such a lawyer. You deserve a fair adjustment to your mortgage, so contact such and such a firm. You deserve to be happy so contact such and such a counseling agency.

I suspect that “you deserve to be happy” line is at the root of most of this thinking. And it’s straight from the US Declaration of Independence, isn’t it? Here’s the line, recorded in the second section of the document:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

So I notice a couple problems. While the founding fathers of the soon-to-be United States mentioned the “pursuit of happiness,” today’s popular understanding seems to interpret this as achieved happiness. Plus, those drafting the Declaration referred to “rights.” Are “rights” the same as “deserts”?

According to my on-line dictionary, the noun form of this word (when not referring to arid land 😉 ) means “a person’s worthiness or entitlement to reward or punishment.”

So the idea we are deserving … of fair treatment or of equity or of happiness would seem to carry with it the idea that something about us makes these good things our due. We must either have done something to earn them or we must be something to earn them.

Clearly, in the ads I’ve been listening to, the implication is the latter. You’ve been in an accident, but your insurance company only wants you to see one of their doctors because they are dedicated to paying out as little money as possible. But you deserve more.

My question: What about being in an accident entitles anyone to more?

But apart from the logic, I look at what the Bible says about what we deserve, and I get a completely different picture.

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

So what I deserve is death. What God gives me as a free gift is eternal life in Christ. Where is entitlement in any of that?

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Published in: on July 27, 2009 at 9:10 am  Comments (9)  
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9 Comments

  1. I’ve been noticing the same thing and for quite a while now. Bugs me too. It would be doubly disturbing in advertising for Christians.

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  2. Didn’t you mean “desserts” instead of “deserts”? The typo cracked me up, but then I got to thinking. We spend so much time looking for desserts when what we really need sometimes is a good desert–a challenge that will cause us to turn to God for help. I think sometimes the pursuit of happiness is not all it’s cracked up to be.

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  3. Janet, I heard another one last night—we deserve to drive a new car! Of course, that one isn’t on Christian radio. And I have no reason to believe that the others are necessarily Christian. I just wonder, though, if the “deserve” line is being used on Christian radio because it seems to fit with the health-an-wealth line. Just a guess on my part.

    Becky

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  4. Hi, Dona, I see what you’re thinking, but no I actually mean deserts. But as I said in the post, I’m not referring to |dez’ (e as in men)-É™rts| of the arid land variety, but to |di-zÉ™rts’|, e. g. the things we deserve. My Oxford English computer dictionary has it down as use number 3. [“noun (usu. deserts) a person’s worthiness or entitlement to reward or punishment : the penal system fails to punish offenders in accordance with their deserts.”] I guess in my effort to be language cute, I was just confusing. Sorry about that.

    Becky

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  5. Bless you for this post!! I needed this message today. It is confirmation of what I was sharing with the ladies in my class at Hosanna Home last night. Thank you!!

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  6. You weren’t confusing, Becky. “Just deserts” is a well-established expression that you used correctly. It’s maybe a little less current than it used to be, that’s all.

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  7. Who cares whether they are just or not. I just want my deserts. And I want it now. You promised! Wahhh.

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  8. […] about a pandemic we’re coping with here in the US — that of deserve-itis. (See “Our Just Deserts” for example). Over and over we’re told we deserve better. The latest arguments […]

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  9. […] today–entitlement. I’ve written about that infectious attitude in the past (see “Our Just Deserts” and “How Deserving Are We?“), so I won’t cover that ground again other […]

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