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Monthly Archives: December 2016

8. No Stealing


You shall not steal. —Exodus 20:15

It is hard to imagine a society with no sanctions on taking for your own use what does not belong to you. Some have tried, but even the wildest flights of fancy cannot come up with a sustainable culture that has absolutely no regard for personal property. I think the closest we come is in imagining cultures without individuals, such as the Borg in Star Trek: Next Generation. Each of us has a property in our own body, and much of our law is predicated on the notion that our bodies are our own and that we have certain rights bound up in our bodies that cannot be taken away by governments or other human institutions. The rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” specified in the Declaration of Independence are such rights. They pre-suppose individual freedom and personal accountability. They pre-suppose that each person has a property in their own body, that they have a right to sustain, protect, and defend that property against those who would try to take it. So the right to property—to own things and keep them for your own use while excluding others from having or using them—is an extension of the right to be secure in your own body.

But is stealing taking what does not belong to you, or is it taking what does belong to someone else? A lot of our history in the United States is predicated on the notion that taking what does not belong to you is not stealing, but taking what does belong to someone else is stealing. Consider the First Nations who were here when Europeans first arrived. Many of them did not consider land something that could be individually owned. It was a common property, owned by no one and everyone. Europeans, however, regarded land as a principle form of wealth. If the land belonged to no one, it was free for the taking.


Meditation on Psalm 131


Psalm 131 is only three verses, but the second verse has always nagged at me.

But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

Why a weaned child? At first I thought it meant a child who had finished nursing. Clearly, such a child is calmed and quieted and content. But a little research soon dispelled that notion. The NIV Study Bible, for example, notes that it refers to “A child of three or four who walks trustingly beside its mother.” How is that a better illustration of contentment than a younger child who is still nursing? What, I wanted to know, does a weaned child have that a nursing child does not?

Then it occurred to me that it is not what the weaned child has but what he does not have that makes the difference. The weaned child no longer has access to his mother’s milk. His calm and quiet and contentment come solely from his mother’s presence, not from anything she gives him. So the weaned child is a picture of perfect trust with nothing but his mother’s presence to secure his comfort and contentment. The psalmist’s trust in God is so deep and well-founded that God’s presence alone—rather than anything God can or might do for him—is the source of his peace and contentment.