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Q. What Do I Do About Returning Stolen Goods To A Person I Cannot Locate?

I know that God said thou not shalt not steal for it is wrong. But I have an item that belongs to a person, but I can no longer find them. What should I do with the item? Give it to donation and give the church money for how much the item given cost?


Dear Friend,

This is an interesting question, but an important one for you. I am pleased that you recognize that what you have kept is stealing, and that you wish to make it right.

The Scripture which comes to mind is this text in Luke 19:

1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. 3 Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. 7 When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. Luke 19:1-9 (NASB)

It appears to me from this text that Zaccheus promised to do two different things as a new believer: First, he gave half of his possessions to the poor. His wealth, it seems, had been gained by a misuse of his authority. There was no way he could go back and quantify every instance of injustice, and so he resolved to give half of his wealth to the poor. Secondly, he promised to pay back any specific individuals and amounts that he was (or would be made) aware of, four-fold.

This could serve as a pattern for you. First, make every reasonable effort to find the person to whom the item in your possession belongs. This may require both effort and expense. It is hard to believe that this individual could not be located, if a diligent search were conducted. If the value of the item is minimal, and would not justify such an intensive search, then you could take the other step which Zaccheus took – give a contribution to the poor and needy. (It would seem from Luke 19 that the amount should be greater than the value of the object.) And from there I would hold onto that item, without gaining from its use, with the hope that the owner might someday be located.

Bob Deffinbaugh

Related Topics: Christian Life, Ethics

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