My children have “safe” spaces where they hide toys they don’t want their siblings to touch. This behavior comes naturally. They, like most of us, believe instinctively that they’ll take better care of their things than someone else will. This attitude is probably at the heart of capitalism’s triumph over the past century as the world’s dominant economic system. Its core tenet, the affirmation of private property rights, appeals to our inborn view of the world.
Christians of all people know, however, that human instinct alone quickly reaches its limits as a guiding principle for life, and the subject of ownership is a case in point. For starters, there’s the Bible and its nettlesome insistence that nothing is really ours because “everything under heaven” is in fact God’s (Job 41:11). I’ve never met a good Christian who disagreed with this, at least in theory (even if our credit card statements betray less-than-complete fealty to that theory).
Christians in the West tend to reconcile our contradictory beliefs in private ownership and divine ownership by leaning hard into the principles of personal stewardship. Yes, Genesis 2 commissions man in general to care for God’s resources, but it especially commissions man individually to care for the lot God has entrusted to him. So we’ve received ample formation in, say, stewarding our personal finances. We know what we’re supposed to do with the harvest from our proverbial garden: tithe, give, save, and wisely spend what’s left.
Where we lose our footing is communal stewardship. We’re much less sure about the rules of the garden if not only I depend on it but everyone else does too. This, ...1
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