Monday, November 4, 2019

Private Property

November 4, 2019 - Monday after Trinity 20

The earth is the LORD’S, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein. For He has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the waters (Psalm 24:1-2).

The ownership of private property is an important concept to Americans. It might even be argued that they concept of private property ownership is fundamental to the development of Western Civilization. Property, and the money and currency we have developed to help us keep and dispose of our property, represents our time and effort, our work. A certain school of economists are fond of describing money as “frozen work”. We trade our time and effort doing a job and we receive money in compensation. We can then trade that money for other property we need or want, property some other person owned or created. God is the author of the idea of private property ownership; He commands us through Moses not to steal. In order to steal something from someone else, that other person must first have a legitimate claim on that property. He may have produced it, or he has the power to dispose of it as he wishes. To steal is to deprive the property owner, then, of a piece of their time; of something they gave up a portion of their time either making, or working to get money so that they could buy.

Socialism, what the dictionary calls the transition phase between capitalism and communism (though Karl Marx used the terms “socialism” and “communism” interchangeably),[1] subverts private property ownership. Indeed, it must. The goal of socialism is the collective, or governmental, control of the means of production. The means of production is just a fancy way of saying factories - the way “property” is produced. In this system, the State (the government, the “collective”) would decide what things were produced, how many of these things were produced, who has access to those things, and how those things could be used. As Marx wrote, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

This isn’t intended to be a lecture on economics. It is, however, important to understand, at least broadly, these two ideas of capitalism and socialism, and their relationship to the concept of private property. In real capitalism, individuals, through their voluntary interactions and commerce with each other in the market, decide what property is produced, how, and to what degree; in a socialist system, the government does all that. The economy is centrally planned. 

Why the economics lesson? It is important to understand that God created the world. It is His property. He may dispose of it as He likes. As the psalmist writes, “The earth is the LORD’s and all it’s fullness.” The “fullness” would be us. We are also His creatures, whom He made out of the dust of the earth, into which He breathed the breath of life. We confess the creation in the words of the Venite:

For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In His hand are the deep places of the earth, the strength of the hills is His also. The sea is His, and He made it, and His hands formed the dry land. Oh, come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker.[2]

This means He can dispose of us and this world as He sees fit, since it is His property which He, through His Only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ Created:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.[3]

If this is not true, then God does not own us. If God and the creation are the fairy stories that modern atheists say they are, no one owns us or the world, which means that we own ourselves. It means that the things we have learned called Christian morality, do unto others as you would have others do unto you, is not a divine creation given to us, an absolute moral system written on our hearts by God, but rather a creation of man. If morality is not absolute, not created by God, but relative to man, then there is no reason, except a personal desire to submit to it, or compulsion by a stronger human force. Right and wrong, rather than being concrete and unchangeable things, become abstract ideas, relative to the dominant culture. Every culture dictates their own “right”, the one that is appropriate for them. Different cultures, with different ideas of “right” might come into conflict, but the stronger will prevail, and whatever is synthesized out of the clash of those two opposing ideas is “right”. 

Modern atheists, living in the afterglow of Christendom, where Christian values are still widely known and kept, even by people who are not Christians, think they like this idea. They like the idea of owning themselves. It means that they don’t have to answer to anyone except themselves, which is quite convenient, since they are in charge of making up all the rules now. In an interview, comedian Stephen Fry was asked what he would say to God if he were called before God’s judgement seat in order to get into heaven. He answered that he would turn the judgement back on God. To Mr. Fry, God was the one who was sinful and immoral:

“I’ll say: bone cancer in children, what’s that about? How dare you create a world where there is such misery that’s not our fault? It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain? The god who created this universe, if he created this universe, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish. We have to spend our lives on our knees thanking him. What kind of god would do that? Yes, the world is very splendid, but it also has in it insects whose life cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind...I wouldn’t want to [get into heaven]. I wouldn’t want to get in on his terms. They are wrong.”[4]

There is a lot to digest in Mr. Fry’s statement, and not at all entirely unreasonable questions to raise. 

Of course, the fact of the matter is that Mr. Fry does not believe that there can be a God, because of the existence of evil. We get into trouble when we assume that the misery isn’t our fault. In reality, God, sin, death, and the state of the universe do not have their existence based on whether or not we humans approve of them. God does not cease to exist because we selfish people, who worship ourselves, don’t understand Him, and subsequently reject Him, much as a petulant child doesn’t understand that the doctor who wants to vaccinate him is working for the child’s good. The doctor doesn’t disappear because the child hates him and, in the end, the child gets the shot.

Or, to put it another way, just because we don’t like what God says or does, how He disposes of His property, doesn’t change anything. It isn’t as though we get let out of the judgement because we don’t like the rules. When Job asked similar questions of God, God showed up in a whirlwind and answered Him:

Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it.[5]

Job’s response, his speechlessness and subsequent repentance, is the reality of what will come of any man standing before the Almighty God.

I suspect it is for this reason atheism and evolutionary theory go together so well. It takes away ownership of the earth and it’s fullness from the Creator, and gives it to the creation. More importantly, it removes any obligation for man to abide by God’s morality - Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind...You shall love your neighbor as yourself - and allows man to make up his own. But we all know this is nonsense. Creation itself bears witness to it’s creator; God’s law, written on our hearts bears witness to the fact that we are evil, fallen and sinful creatures. 

There is also another way in which God has claim of ownership over the earth and all it’s fullness: through Jesus, God in human flesh, second person of the Holy Trinity, Redeemer of the world. Jesus bought back the property that He created, after it had been stolen from Him. Adam and Eve plunged mankind, and all of creation, into sin by their disobedience to God, and their selfish desire to become like Him. The entire creation was put under the curse, now utterly corrupted, and subject to sin, death, and Satan, who was responsible for introducing sin into the world. But God knew that, before it’s foundation, He would redeem the world through the blood of Jesus. God promised Adam and Eve that they would be redeemed, and that Satan’s head would be crushed by the woman’s offspring, even as He sent them out of the earthly paradise. He spent hundreds and hundreds of years preparing and gathering to Himself a people, whom He would set apart from all the other peoples of the earth, through whom this offspring - this Seed - would one day come. He gave them peculiar civil laws and religious worship, so that they would be reminded of the Seed to come, and keep them set apart from the rest of the world; He hammered into their collective heads just what kind of a God He was, as C. S. Lewis wrote:

Those people were the Jews, and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process. Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time.[6]

Jesus, God in human flesh, took on human nature and lived the sinless life that it was impossible for man to live. Born of the Virgin Mary, born sinless, He was born under the Law. And He kept the Law perfectly, as mankind could not do. Then, He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, as the Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice to take away the sins of the world. He was executed as a criminal and a blasphemer in our place, taking the punishment the world deserved, according to the scriptures. He rose again from the dead on the third day, again, as written in the scriptures. He is the propitiation for our sins, the ransom for many. And He will come again with glory, to judge the quick and the dead, and to take possession of His creation as King, once and for all; He will remake it, purging it of sin and death forever. 

It makes no difference if we like this or not. In fact, we don’t like it, none of us. He has to prepare us. He sends His servants, pastors, into the world to preach His Word; they call people to repentance for their sins, and announce to them the forgiveness Christ has won for them on the cross. He connects us to His death and His resurrection in Holy Baptism, where He saves us and washes away our sin. He feeds us with His very body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, nourishing, sustaining, and increasing our faith, so that no matter what misery and injustice we must endure while we live in this fallen creation, it will be for our good. Even the ultimate evil, death, will ultimately be for our good, if we are in Christ. The worst thing that the devil can do to us is kill our bodies. But Jesus tells us not to fear the one who can kill the body, but rather the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell - God Almighty. So, even though we may not understand or like the things that happen to us in this life, we strive to live according to the new creation, His own possession, that He has made us in our Baptism; we love the Lord with all our hearts and we love our neighbors as ourselves, showing our faith by our works. And when we sin, we repent, knowing that we have been baptized into Christ, and that He died for the forgiveness of our sin, and rose for our justification. He also gives us gifts to possess. His death and His resurrection are ours. His life is our life. Because He lives, we shall live. In this world there is trouble and injustice. Christ has overcome the world. He is the ultimate justice.

1. “Socialism: Definition of Socialism by Lexico.” Lexico Dictionaries | English. Lexico Dictionaries. Accessed November 12, 2019.

2. Lutheran Intersynodical Hymnal Committee, and Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America. 1941. The Lutheran hymnal: authorized by the synods constituting the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America. Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House.

3. Colossians 1:15-18

4. Independent Staff. “Stephen Fry 'Blasphemy': Comedian's Remarks about God That Prompted Police Investigation in Full.” The Independent, May 7, 2017.

5. Job 40:2

6. Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity (version alt.binaries.e-book 2002), 1953.