If we want justice and equity in human relationships, we have to begin by acknowledging that God owns everything. One of the reasons our culture had for adopting atheistic evolution as our foundational creed is to get around this most inconvenient reality. In a world of purposeless chance, there is stuff lying around, and those who evolve out of other stuff first and find the stuff lying around can provisionally call it “theirs,” unless and until a stronger predator comes and takes it. In modern economics, we call that stronger predator “the majority.”
But in a creationist ethic, God created man and woman, and gave them the responsibility for being stewards of the earth. So that we would know what our particular stations were in this broad task of stewardship, God established private ownership, answerable to Him. Just as the commandment not to commit adultery presupposes the institution of marriage, so also the commandment not to steal presupposes the institution of private property. This is why every form of socialism is evil.
The command is not “thou shalt not steal, unless you really need it.” It is not “thou shalt not steal, except by majority vote.” It is not “thou shalt not steal, unless it is for the common good.” It is simply this: thou shalt not steal (Ex. 20:15).
So this prohibition of stealing is foundational to any just social order. Contrariwise, the lure of thievery is foundational to every corruption of the social order. As soon as we truly understand this, we start to see violations of the principle everywhere. Theft is not an activity restricted to porch climbers and carjackers. Theft on a grand scale is usually accomplished, not with a crowbar, but rather with a congressman.
It decks itself out as “compassionate,” but this compassion consists of sending men with guns over to somebody else’s house in order to force him to give what all the nice people vaguely deem to be his “fair share.” There is a lot of math involved in determining these amounts. You probably wouldn’t understand.
Biblical compassion consists of giving your own resources away. Collectivist faux-compassion is the whitewash we put over our own larcenous hearts, justifying massive redistribution of wealth, in high defiance of God’s law. We want all the benefits of the thievery, along with all the benefits of a clean conscience, and the resultant acrobatic casuistry that follows is a sight to behold.
Frédéric Bastiat described the ludicrous rationalization quite well:
“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”
Once we understand the gospel, which teaches us the extent of our own sinfulness, we start to understand the lengths to which collective rationalization can go. There is no area of life where the Christian world stands in greater need of theological sanctification that here, on the issue of property.
Wealth is a good thing. It is a good thing that presents many temptations, certainly, and one of the central temptations it brings is that of making us think that it is other people who are experiencing the temptation. In short form, we think the great problem to avoid is greed, when the real problem is that we are addled with envy.
We think that the answer to wealth’s temptations is asceticism, when it is actually gratitude and generosity. The people of Israel in Deuteronomy were certainly warned about the temptations presented by wealth.
“Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage . . . And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day” (Deut. 8:12–18).
They sinfully assumed that they had made themselves wealthy. They gave way to self-sufficiency. They forgot that it was God who made them wealthy. They forgot—just as we have forgotten—that He made them wealthy in order to establish His covenant.
And what does it look like when His covenant is established? We can see it in a mirror, when we look at what Israel did not do.
“Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things; Therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the Lord shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things: and he shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck, until he have destroyed thee” (Deut. 28:47–48).
What modern Christians in the West lack is not stuff. We have the stuff, but so did Israel before Nebuchadnezzar hauled away all their stuff. We have the stuff. What we don’t have is the worship of God with joy and gladness, for the abundance of all things.
In short, we don’t know how to be stewards, because we don’t know that God is the only ultimate owner.