“‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers. Throughout the land that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.
- Leviticus 25:23-24
WARNING: The following quote is from Screwtape, a senior demon of ill repute. He is explaining to his nephew, Wormwood, how confusing humans regarding ownership can be a ploy to tempt us.
“We produce this sense of ownership not only by pride but by confusion. We teach them not to notice the different senses of the possessive pronoun – the finely graded differences that run from ‘my boots’ through ‘my dog’, ‘my servant’, ‘my wife’, ‘my father’, ‘my master’, and ‘my country’, to ‘my God’. They can be taught to reduce all these senses to ‘my boots’, the ‘my’ of ownership. …
”And all the time the joke is that the word ‘Mine’ in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. In the long run either Our Father [Satan] or the Enemy [God] will say ‘Mine’ of each thing that exists, and specially of each man. They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong – certainly not to them, whatever happens. At present the Enemy [God] say ‘Mine’ of everything on the pedantic, legalistic ground that he made it: Our Father [Satan] hopes in the end to say ‘Mine’ on the more realistic and dynamic ground of conquest, Yours Affectionately uncle, Screwtape. [thus ending letter 21]”
- C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
We are approaching a holiday that is supposed to mirror the Christmas carol, “Joy to the World,” but will invariably end with one child grabbing something from another while screaming “Mine! Mine! Mine!”
Why in threes? “Mine!” once is irritating enough, but they must repeat it.
I filled out some government forms once to get food stamps. I was over six months into a year without work, having already lost unemployment benefits. They asked if I had a car registered in my name. I said that I did. They said, “You have too much available resources. You are hereby denied food stamps.” I told them that I owed more than the car was worth. It was registered in my name, but the bank owned it. It is not a resource that I can turn into cash. They blinked at me, I think three times. They looked past me to the next person in line and said, “Next!” I then went into the parking lot and got into my aging American made sedan, that was falling apart. I drove it out of the parking lot, empty handed, with the parking lot filled with the cars of the people who were getting food stamps that day – the ones not rejected. Those cars, all brand new, were a few each of Mercedes, Volvo, Lexus, and one older Cadillac (maybe owned by the employee who rejected me). The lot was filled, now that I was leaving, without exception with luxury cars, probably registered to a dead uncle or their children – but they were all getting food stamps, and I was nearing my last dollar and rejected. This was over twenty years ago, in a different state than the one I am living in today.
I thought at that moment of rejection, ‘Do we really own anything?’
In the recesses of my mind, I was probably thinking of the Scripture above. We are not owners of anything, simply stewards of all that is God’s. As Screwtape said (sarcastically, being a demon) – on the ground that He made it.
Let’s look at the senses of ‘my’ that Screwtape mentions. ‘My boots’ is easy. We might be the only one in our family that can wear said boots. If we take ownership of these boots, however temporary, no one is going to argue. If we claim ‘my boots’ when the boots are three sizes too small, we are being childish, but I have seen that battle play out in the children’s closet, due to sentimental attachment to the boots. With our boys, it wasn’t boots. By the time our younger son was in first grade, he had a larger shoe size than his big brother and he was so rough on his shoes that his big brother would never think of getting his younger brother’s hand-me-downs.
Now let’s move to ‘my dog’. When I grew up, the ownership of ‘dog’ went to the one that the dog came to for petting, feeding, etc. Maybe a different family member each day or even each hour. Dogs were family pets, but they were pets, possessions – one half-step above livestock on the farm. When the last of our string, as in granddaughter of the granddaughter of the … starting with the old one that started the family’s beagles, died, I cried, although I was a young teen. My Dad handed me a shovel and instructed me to bury the dog deep. Then he added, “Don’t cry; its just livestock.” You may call yourself your pet’s parent and treat it like a human, but I was not brought up that way. I can envision the animal as a possession. Most people in this twisted world today cannot. But C. S. Lewis beautifully ties the string with ever stickier ‘possessions’.
The next four ‘my’ words are servant, wife, father, and master. Each gets a little bit stickier when you use the full possessive for ‘my’. A servant that is a possession is a slave, and although we have abolished slavery, business owners, or just the managers, often treat the employee, the servant, as a slave. They are often applauded for doing so. It is thought of as being assertive, while really being abusive. It’s probably the reason I was thought of as a weak manager, treating those under me as humans, treating them with respect. Saying ‘my wife’ in the possessive is stickier than the servant. That attitude, including ‘my husband’, may be the source of most divorces. We are united and we become one, not the possession of each other. As for ‘my father’ not many would consider this in the full possessive, but as the father gets old, some children take over as the parent, and often treat the parent as a slave, with resentment over the form of childhood punishment or an imagined slight that has festered for forty years or so. Have you ever had a child go through the house, labeling everything as theirs? I have experienced that in a subtle sense with my boys, but with my generation, I have heard my mother say, “You can’t have …” This applied to everything, because some other member of the family had claimed everything, and according to my mother there was nothing left for me. It turned out slightly differently than my mother had stated, with a different one taking possession of everything, but I still got nothing, except the painting that my grandmother painted of me. And the ‘my master’ as a possessive can get you fired if they figure out your mindset.
We might vote differently if we did not consider ‘my country’ to be the candy store that gives us stuff. As they say today, ‘Just saying.’
But ‘my God’? Oh, yes. Many Christians, or at least those calling themselves Christians, have created a small God, in their minds. Someone that they can pull out in case He is needed but ignored the rest of the time. If they could realize that the God of the universe cannot fit in their back pocket, they might never think of the ‘my’ as possessive. God is too big and too powerful for that. No, it is not a possessive sense at all. God oddly does not ‘possess’ us. He freely allows us to choose Him. Screwtape was wrong in that regard. (Although, I think Lewis got it right that Satan and his minions probably think of it as a possession of us.)
No, God loves us. He calls us to be adopted family members, brothers of Jesus. No possession at all. As Jesus calls the collection of believers, the church, His bride, we can consider each of us to be united with Christ, two becoming one in spiritual brotherhood.
I doubt if this post will help resolve the “Mine! Mine! Mine!” battle in the afternoon of Christmas day, but it is something to think about.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.