A few months ago while on a business trip I decided to visit a state park after my work for the day had concluded. Three colleagues and I drove to the park, paid the $10 entrance fee, and drove far back into the woods along a winding five-mile road that led deeper into the preserve. The parking lot at the end was deserted except for one other car that pulled in just as we collected our belongings, locked two purses in the trunk, and prepared to trek to the 50-foot-high observation tower, where the sign boasted viewings of wild horses and bison.
Once at the tower, we pulled out our binoculars and focused on the dark shapes roaming the far reaches of the prairie. Shortly thereafter, the other group arrived—appearing to be a mother with three sons ranging in age from about 10 to 16.
The mother said nothing, seating herself in a shadowed area out of view. Volunteering to share my binoculars with the older boy, I chatted excitedly about seeing wild horses in Florida. He returned the conversation amiably, thanking me for the binoculars and getting a firsthand view of the dark steeds in the distance.
Then, just as quickly as they had come, the family disappeared. As we were soon to discover, so had our purses. Opening the trunk, it took a while for us to process what had just happened. My small dark bag with my driver’s license, credit cards, and a $10 bill was gone. Helen’s purse with a driver’s license, credit cards, and $100 in cash was nowhere to be found.
The park suddenly became a dark, menacing place. Immediately we drove to the entrance and reported the crime. The park warden was stunned. Nothing like that had ever happened before at this state park. A police officer arrived and took down our information, including a description of the car and the family we met at the tower. For the next two hours, we went into a frenzy calling home, informing our families, and closing credit cards.
Somewhere within that window of time we received our first clue. My card had been used to make a purchase of $7.48 at an A&W restaurant. Video footage at the store revealed it to be the same car that had pulled up beside us at the park. The culprits were the mother and her three sons, including the boy who had chatted so politely and accepted my offer to look through the proffered binoculars.
A flood of emotions swept through me. Seven dollars and 48 cents in an A&W restaurant? If you really needed the money, lady, why did you stop for sodas? Why didn’t you at least feed your family!
Cold reality hit me next. We could have been knocked off that 50-foot tower! That kid could have grabbed those $200 binoculars and made a run for it. The bottom line was that we had been violated. We had extended a hand of kindness and had been betrayed. Robbed. Victimized. It took months to recover all that we had lost. And I will never feel safe in similar surroundings again.
For a while, I was smug in my categorization. Bad people in the world steal, rob, and plunder. The rest of us hold our heads high, do our best to forgive, and struggle to understand. However, unsettling questions gradually began to interrupt my thoughts. Is taking a purse from someone’s trunk the only way to steal? Is it possible that all of us are guilty, in some way or another, of treading on God’s eighth commandment? Here are 10 less obvious ways of ignoring God’s injunction, “Thou shalt not steal.” Read further to see if any apply to you.
1 Infringing copyright
Scanning the Internet for original pictures, grabbing copy and using it as if it is your own, and accessing others’ material without giving due credit—all of this qualifies as stealing intellectual property. While a typed paragraph may not seem as concrete as a purse, stealing is stealing, nonetheless.
2 Cheating on taxes
“Do I really have to report those under-the-table wages? After all, the government doesn’t need to know everything about me! And if I did report it, others would be getting away with far more than me. Why should I be the one to pay all the money?”
If you ever find yourself asking such questions, stop the flow. You’re getting dangerously close to forcing entry into the locked trunk. The purse inside is not worth it. The A&W root beer will all too soon taste flat.
3 Stealing joy
“Look at her. She thinks she’s so great! Just because her son won the scholarship doesn’t make her any better than the rest of us. I know how to take her down a peg or two in my own subtle way. I’m not going to even acknowledge the news.”
The irony here is that the robbery is twofold. You not only take away another’s own rich experience of joy, you rob yourself of the joy of sharing in it. Happiness is replaced by bitterness. Friendship is broken. Two individuals are left bereft.
4 Withholding a tip
Sometimes it is too easy to feel entitled, viewing people in service positions with little empathy. Meal not hot enough? Service slow? Waitress not very friendly? “I will barely tip. That will show her!”
In an industry that pays less-than-minimum wage, such action robs a worker of the small gain that might go toward college tuition, family necessities, or food on the table. What wouldn’t have made a big difference to you adds up to a vital source of income to those for whom every dollar counts.
5 Taking what isn’t yours
I will never forget the day my dad found 10 $20 bills all folded together right in plain view on the sidewalk. He had just started a business. Our family was low on funds but high on love. There was no question about what Dad would do. How excited we all were when he reported that the police had located the owner of the money in our small town. The man visited us beaming, leaving Dad with one of the $20 bills for his honesty. The day remains as a high point in my childhood memories.
I can’t help but contrast this with the experience of a family who visited us recently. The children arrived with new bangles hanging from their wrists while their family said excitedly, “We don’t know who was supposed to get this box, but it came to our apartment!” No effort was spent trying to find the owners. It came to us, they reasoned, so it’s ours. That’s no excuse for keeping something that doesn’t belong to you.
6 Keeping the change
Have you ever counted your change and realized the clerk had made a mistake? “This is my lucky day! She accidentally gave me a ten instead of a one! Sh-h-h-h! Don’t say anything. Tiptoe out to the car before anyone notices.”
While you may not realize it or think about it, someone is accountable for that money at the end of the day. In essence, by remaining mute you just robbed a worker of her hire, a family of rent money, or a mother of cash for groceries.
7 Stealing answers
I was shocked recently when speaking with a group of high school students about their study habits. Every week they split up the homework, each one doing parts of it, combining their answers, and then submitting them as thinly disguised individual answers. Various creative means had been invented to cheat on tests. One girl wrote the answers on her leg just above the knee. “The teacher wouldn’t think to ask me to lift my skirt or he would be fired!” she laughed.
Another entered information from the textbook into his cell phone, which he hid in his desk and intermittently viewed when the teacher was looking at the other side of the room. Two other students sat close to one another, and each one had studied half the material, so they whispered the answers to each other.
When I suggested that such actions were dishonest, the students protested, “But we have to do it. Everyone else does it! If we don’t, it won’t be fair. We’ll be the only ones flunking!”
No matter who else might be doing it, cheating on a test is still stealing. The height of irony is the victim of the robbery. That, of course, would be yourself.
8 Altering the clock at work
Have you ever “forgotten” to clock out of work during your full lunch hour? Or punched back in before actually finishing your lunch break? Or submitted a time sheet that didn’t exactly reflect the actual hours you worked?
I spoke to someone recently who told me about people at her job who are privately recognized among coworkers as continually stretching the limits, dishonestly claiming work hours while sitting around in the break room.
9 Robbing God of our tithes and offerings
The Bible is quite forthright on this one. “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings” (Malachi 3:8).
Are you having a tight month? That’s all the more reason to give! Once again, by trying to take things into your own hands, you not only rob God but deprive yourself of the blessings only He can give. “ ‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it’ ” (verse 10).
10 Stealing time best spent with God
This last one probably accounts for everything we’ve talked about so far. When we’re too rushed to spend time with God, we make ourselves vulnerable for all the other kinds of robbery. “Let me just steal a few more moments of sleep. Let me just take a little time to watch my favorite show.” When our relationship with God becomes compromised, we forget to listen to the still, small Voice. The purse in the trunk beckons. We step closer to taking what isn’t ours.
If any of these 10 points have made you the slightest bit uncomfortable, the Spirit of God is doing His work. God commands us to keep all of His commandments, including the eighth one that says, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15).