Time for five minutes in the life of the cashier. 8:52. Less than ten minutes before we close. The line stretches back to 9:07, by the looks of it. Except for the one–standing at the end of the counter, faded tattoo around her finger and too much eyeshadow smudged around her eyes. There’s a slight scent to her that makes me wonder if the prescription bottle she pulled briefly from her purse really ought to be there. The art supplies lie forlorn on the counter between us, pregnant silence stifling the entire front end.
“So you’re just returning these for your mother in law?”
“Ok. … Since there isn’t a receipt we’ll just have to make sure we still carry it, just a moment.”
She steps aside and the line starts to move forward once again, the “register closed” sign marching ever closer with the advent of 9:00. 8:57. 8:59. 9:02. The manager comes down to speak with her, and she leaves.
We all knew it was shoplifted–the second time in as many months returning the same kind of items with a slightly different story? Plus sergeant (my manager) just has the Spidey-sense for these things. But it got me thinking: why would anybody become a petty thief?
From a purely logical point of view, stealing doesn’t make sense. Sure you don’t have to pay for it–but the effort expended in making sure you’re not caught and returning or reselling the stolen merchandise effectively nullifies any benefits received from stealing.
Add to that the moral dilemma–God said don’t steal. That’s the ultimate authority, and you don’t go against it. Even more than a transgression (something wrong because someone–God–forbids it), stealing is a sin (something wrong because it goes against the laws of justice that govern the universe). It is a wrong action, and on some level it violates the agency of the individual.
There’s an interesting moral story I love–I forget the author–that discusses the value of stealing. It’s a tale about a magical ring. This ring makes its wearer invisible, and the bearer inevitably ends up committing wrongs, because the consequences no longer exist. No, this story is not secretly the Lord of the Rings dressed up in togas and grapes (although I suppose it could be). It’s really from ancient Greece, and they used it to describe human nature and man’s natural tendencies. (Ie because the ring of power gets rid of consequences, stealing becomes ok. Humans only obey laws for fear of getting caught). But I think it’s a bit depressing to consider man a naturally evil creature. I believe we are all sons and daughters of God–he is the Father of our Spirits, and we are His children. He loves us, and wants to influence us for good. Of course we can choose to go against His laws and precepts, do whatever we want to and live however we want with whatever consequences we accrue. But then we end up right back at the beginning, where we started: it’s not worth it.
Stealing, lying and other vices simply aren’t worth the trouble they take to maintain. No temporary high, no immediate benefit can make up for the extended efforts required to keep up the false fronts, cover the tracks of theft or etc. I don’t want to over-simplify anybody’s life situation or minimize the trials they might be facing elsewhere in their lives… petty theft, even when committed under extreme duress, is still wrong. I want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and will help how I can–but I cannot condone a wrong action. But is it just because the consequences ouweigh the benefits that we don’t steal? No. We don’t steal because it’s wrong. Saying its not worth it is only a way of simplifying the situation.
So what is “worth it”? Well, I believe that it is only through Christ, our Lord and Redeemer, that we are saved. He’s the one that’s worth it. He is the way–He atoned for our sins and our sorrows and by investing our time and talents in Him, we will find more happiness and value in our lives than we ever have known before. Not only that, it’s the right thing to do, regardless of the outcome (isn’t it so super cool that God gets to bless us more when start doing right things?) That’s what’s worth it. I can hope the same holds true for you, but this is really just a thought of mine.
Thanks for reading,