Thief!

I find myself both appalled and fascinated by Gollum as he sickly coos over his “precious,” the ring he murdered for and stole. When Bilbo comes upon it inadvertently, Gollum wails out “thief!” What makes Gollum so fascinating? Is not he something uncomfortably close to all of us … indeed, part of our humanity?

Most of us would not consider ourselves to be thieves. Such a name and reputation would be too shameful for us to bear. We feel that we possess integrity; we would never stoop so low as to steal. Again, this commandment is not only given to the guy next to us, but to us ─ all of us! It is my commandment to have and to hold, to love or to break. If we are honest, we will see that we do some of both.

Behind stealing is a whole complex of interior motions. There is idolatry, where we fix upon anything earthly or temporal as if it is ultimate. There is envy, where we are suddenly hit with a feeling of sadness over what others have and we do not have. Envy is misdirected longing that can easily make us vulnerable to theft. There is discontentment, believing that we deserve more in life than our lot, and that somehow we got a “raw deal,” making thievery a very real possibility for us. There is jealousy and gossip that goad us into talking about others in a negative way, thus “stealing” the reputation of others. All of these spring from pride that blinds us to the obvious about ourselves; we are susceptible to breaking this commandment.

Added to the above is a very common sin of holding back from God accompanied by a skewed understanding of ownership. We have little to no grasp of the majesty of God and his complete ownership of all things. Everything we have is God’s; we have them on loan. This is behind the biblical mandate to tithe. All of our income belongs to God because nothing that we have or work for originates from us, but is gifted to us by a generous God. He allows us to keep the greater portion, but we are expected to give back to God at least 10% and alms for the poor on top of that. Some lamely claim that this is an Old Testament expectation, but now that we are under grace and not under law, this no longer applies to us. This argument has absolutely no foundation in reason, and is a perversion of the doctrine of grace. The greater the grace the greater generosity is engendered in the heart. The upshot of all this is that when we hold back from giving substantially and sacrificially to God, we are, in fact, thieves. Look around your home and look at the things bought with money that should have gone to God, ministry and things of eternal value; they are stolen goods. True, God wants us to have things and enjoy them, but He knows that the greatest thing to possess is a generous heart.

Like all the other commandments, this one is about boundaries. When one is content with the lot God has given one, the thought of thievery cannot make its way into the heart to disturb the soul. This commandment is meant to free us to be magnanimous and generous persons. It saves us from the indignity of grasping, and opens us up to receiving what we do have with profound gratitude and creates in us that godlike quality of generosity. Law is not bondage! Law is freedom! “I will walk in liberty because I seek your precepts” (Ps. 119:45).

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