|Series Theme: Meditations in Lessons from the Law of Moses|
Meditation No. 10
Meditation Title: Respect Property - and yourself!
Ex 20:15 You shall not steal
Moving on from laws about specific relationships, this next command takes us into the realm of how we think about other people or organizations generally. Understand that this is first and foremost about what goes on in your mind. Stealing is simply taking into your ownership what belongs to another, without their permission. It differs from borrowing in that you take it without permission, and you take it to hold onto it for your ownership. It is an offence against another person. There is in God's eyes a very simple principle and one which is re-enacted in most property laws: what has been bought by you, or made by you, belongs to you. It is yours and so taking it without your permission for their long-term use (ownership) is wrong. It doesn't matter what it is, it is stealing. We may try to rationalise it by saying they don't need it (e.g. paper from the company you work for) or don't deserve it (evading taxes), but it still is stealing. Each such act is an expression of what you think about a person, an organisation or an authority.
Even more than that, each such act of taking what does not belong to you, reveals something about you, and it demeans you. When we take what belongs to another we demean ourselves. We may be made in the image of God and have incredible potential, but at that moment we are moving in the opposite direction where we are demeaned in the eyes of the rest of the world. I believe the act of stealing takes us down as human being almost more than anything else. It doesn't matter whether it is taking some food from a big supermarket chain without paying, taking something from a family's belongings on a beach on holiday, taking something from a science lab at school, or paper from the office, it still demeans us as people.
Like Adam and Eve, we rationalise it so often or even blame others: we pay too much on taxes so it doesn't matter if I don't declare this extra work. Or it may be, if they paid me a decent wage, I wouldn't need to have to take things from the office. Or perhaps we say, if the government gave me enough benefit I wouldn't need to take food from the supermarket. All of them are just excuses and even in saying them, we demean ourselves even more.
I use this word ‘demean' purposely. It simply means ‘to put down'. Many of us have low self-esteem already but actually when we take what doesn't belong to us, we put ourselves into a lower bracket of humanity and we can't think well of ourselves – it's how God has made us. Even ‘big people' who create financial scams may flout their ill gotten gains, but deep down they know what they are really like, and life becomes a big effort to cover up the truth about what they really are like. If you ever hear someone boasting about their misdeeds, they are simply trying (desperately) to cover up the truth and pretend it is something other that it is.
Often when we steal we do not appear to do any harm because, perhaps, the organisation is so large they won't notice it. The trouble is that you are not the only person doing it and they do notice it and so prices are put up to cover the loss and so the rest of us have to pay more because of you, and when we think about it you know what we think of you and again you are demeaned.
The previous command was about adultery and often adultery is about stealing someone else's partner or stealing away the heart of someone else's partner. The trouble is that it is so common today that we rationalise it and say it is quite normal and everyone does it. No they don't and it is not ‘normal'. It is quite contrary to how God has designed us. It is stealing by another name and YOU are demeaned. You are a lesser person and you know it and we know it, however much it is laughed at or made the subject of ‘soaps' on TV every day.
There are two particular spin-offs of stealing that we don't tend to think much about. The first one is loss of trust. If I know that you steal – because you brag about it – I won't trust you. If you steal from others, you may steal from me. You can't be trusted. You are a lesser being. The other one is, of course, the fact of being caught, at which point any reputation that you might have had, immediately goes. What is sad about all this, is that there are many people who go in and out of prison, or in and out of the courts and do community service for stealing, and who simply accept their lowly view of themselves almost without thought. That's just how life is, is a common attitude or, why shouldn't I if I can get away with it? What we have in every case of stealing is someone who thinks little of themselves. They have either never seen, or have lost, the sense that they could be ‘someone'. Being ‘someone' isn't about having wealth or power, those are only the outward trappings. Being ‘someone' is about feeling good about yourself and not having any cause to feel guilty or defensive or afraid because of who you are and what you have done.
We may not murder and we may not commit adultery, but if we take from someone else what is not ours, we move into the bracket of a ‘transgressor' and we have an issue with God. We may think it is only a small issue, but it is still an issue and we are lesser people for it. This is a short and simple command, but it has big repercussions.