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Monday, September 01, 2008

What about the desire for ownership?


The desire to call something 'mine' is strong indeed, in fact it seems it's born within us. You only have to look at very young children playing with toys to see how strong a desire is linked to the word 'mine'. That desire never really diminishes, so many people argue that the desire is natural.

It's natural that I should want to own a home and once I have a home to own the the things that fill the space up. As I go through life I see things, I want them and I try to acquire them, it's only natural. Those possessions are mine, and no one elses - so hands off.

But it's only natural if we think that this life is all there is, it's only natural if we think the point of life is to make oneself happy, it's only natural if we think we have to look after number 1 and it's only natural if we think no one else is going to look out for us. It's only natural if we neither know nor trust our neighbour and have no sense of family or community.

Ownership is linked pretty closely to control, if I own it I say what happens with it, I set the conditions and rules. I am in charge. You can't touch my stuff unless I say so. Control gives us power. It's always a travesty when people act as if other people are their possessions, as if they own their partner or children so they can control them.

Anyway, it should come as no surprise that the Bible has a different take on ownership. For a start it has a much longer term perspective. It recognises that everyone perishes and the only person who has any 'real' ownership of anything in this world is the one who made it. In fact it's not really implicit but pretty clearly stated - 'The earth is the Lord's and everything in it' according to Psalm 24.

Our desire for ownership then brings with it some real problems, firstly it's a challenge to the real owner, which is why playground battles can be so vicious. We challenge God's right to the earth and all that is in it. Having staked our claim to ownership, we then attempt to assert control, which again challenges someone who has a claim to Lordship. We were created to be great tenants but we ended up making pretty terrible masters.

But the consequences extend to our relationship with others, we become possessive, selfish and anxious and that's if we're among the lucky ones. Yet generosity, sharing, community, families and most of all acknowledging God's prior claim over our lives and all that comes through our hands are effective antidotes.

The more I give, the freer I become, the less I have the less what I have has me and the more contented I become. God sets me free because what is natural is actually an unnatural chain around me, that I will use to the best of my ability to use the things that God has given me the way He wants them used. Which I suspect is to be a blessing to others.

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