If I am starving is it ok to steal?

A couple of weeks ago I was spending my daily time with God and discovered an interesting verse of Scripture. This is the verse,

“People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry, but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold; he will give all the goods of his house.”

Proverbs 6:30-31

After reading this passage, I tweeted and facebooked the verse with this question, “If I am starving is it ok to steal?” This is a good question that is often discussed in circles and classes of philosophy. The clever discussion hinges on our understanding of truth which asks, “If something is true, is it true all the time and for everyone?” The short answer from the Bible is “Yes, Truth is Absolute.” The Bible clearly reveals that theft is always wrong. The Ten Commandments reveal it. (Ex 20) The book of 1 Corinthians reveals that those who continue to practice theft will be doomed to Hell. (6:10)

The problem we have with this question is the difficulty of circumstance. Let us think for a moment, “Are more thefts committed out of a need for something or out of a simple desire to have?” I assert that most thefts are committed by people in need of money, drugs, and food. In my travels to Nicaragua I have experienced children placing their hands in my pockets with the motivation of stealing anything I have. I also know that while the little kids steal from me, the big kids wait down the street for the little kids to walk by with the loot so they can jump out and beat them vigorously and take their loot. The point is that theft creates more theft. The book of James addresses this as well saying, “Sin begets sin.” (James 1:15) So we must acknowledge that theft is always wrong and that theft rarely occurs when circumstances are perfect.

The Proverb and other Scripture, however, pushes in a different direction. The direction is even more uncomfortable! The Proverb states, “Don’t despise the man who steals because he is hungry!” Once when I was a teenager my home was broken into and my stereo and other electronics were taken. My initial emotion was disgust, anger, and the desire for justice! I wanted the sinner caught and punished! My desire for justice is natural, but often I want to take justice into my own hands. I want to punish the people who hurt and harm me; I want them to hurt like I hurt! I despise them!

The Bible encourages me to seek justice, but to not despise them! This is tough! The Bible doesn’t just end there though. In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul writes this to Christians, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” I believe that in this verse the Apostle is correcting the behavior of a thief, but also encouraging the church to help the thief. My paraphrase of the statement is “Stop stealing and start giving!” This implies that the church, those who follow Christ, have a duty to do justice, care for the offender, and seek to help the offender. We find it very difficult to do all three!

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