How has stealing become a virtue? It is a sin even when committed by a folk hero or a popularly elected government. For all property belongs to God. He gives it to whom he pleases, and to steal is to sin against God. His strategies of distribution place higher emphasis on covenantal faithfulness than simple egalitarianism. But he does provide means by which we may legitimately gain wealth. From the beginning, work was the primary one. Vast wealth was deposited in the resource-rich creation, but by work man was encouraged to embark on his own wealth-creation journey, made in the image of God, and utilizing God’s resources for God’s glory, enhancing his own life-style in the process.
Part of the motivation in this was the knowledge that in the accumulation of wealth, he was laying up an inheritance for his children. This, the Bible tells us, is a mark of a good man. It is clear that in Bible times property belonged to families and was to be protected over generations. Prophetic denunciations fell on all who sought to throw off this God-ordained order, whether through the injustice of exploitative capitalists, or the statist intervention that believed that a king like Ahab had a right to possess the vineyard of a man like Naboth – property that had been in his family for generations.
But while the poor could never become rich because somebody stole on their behalf, in a biblical economy they could rely on the generosity of those who knew that their blessings were at the hand of God and for the benefit of others to the praise of God’s glory. Voluntary generosity, not state-enforced redistribution, is the Bible’s solution for the plight of the poor. And for all of us, whatever wealth we have is ultimately ours because we have been given gifts. To be the recipients of gifts is not a mark of the humiliation of the poor, but the permanent status of mankind, ever dependent on God’s charity through whatever means he chooses.
Treasure in the Field is now available as an e-book from major outlets for all kinds of readers. Click here to access it in any format, or as a free pdf. Or, you can listen to chapter 11 as audio files: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.