God is our Owner

When I started this series on alliterative names for God, I had assumed that when I got to the letter O, I would be using one of the “omni” words – omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. But I prefer to stick to words that get used in ordinary conversation if I can.

Discussions of fiction may involve the “omniscient narrator” (a narrator who knows what is going on with all the characters, including their thoughts, not just the point of view of a single character). But omnipotent and omnipresent are pretty much limited to descriptions of God. (I did find one newspaper column using the word omnipotent in reference to Obama, but it was clearly satirical, pointing out how unrealistically high Obama had raised expectations among the American electorate.)

I thought of using the phrase “God is One,” because I liked the fact that “one” can be used both as an adjective (one book) and a noun (he is the one). But I couldn’t think of much to say about it, other than get into how God is both three and one, and many wiser people than I am have written volumes on the subject.

I found myself somewhat hesitant to write about God as our Owner. When we use the word owner, we generally are talking about owning things. We also talk about owning pets, though some animal rights proponents take issue with that. The only time we speak of people having an owner is in the case of slavery, and we consider that practice so immoral we hardly want to think of God that way.

The difference is that God is our Owner. He created everything, including people, and He owns everything – including people. A human being has no right to claim ownership of another human being, because both belong to God. For that matter, there is a sense in which a human being is not truly the owner of anything, because it is all “on loan” from God.

I found one web page recently that made an interesting distinction between possession and ownership. If you look around my house, you will find books that are temporarily “in my possession” although they belong to the local library. In this view, we have possessions but do not actually own them, because everything belongs to God. Maybe it’s just semantics, but I think it expresses something true about God and us.

I am more accustomed – and probably more comfortable – thinking of God as Master. There are other ways we use the word master besides in the context of slavery. Even if the words are not in common usage anymore, we know that schoolmasters and taskmasters were people in positions of authority. A servant’s employer was his master. Likewise an apprentice learned from a master at his craft.

But in at least some of those examples, people voluntarily chose to serve their masters (even if the choice was only between one master and another). When I think of God as my Master, I think of the service and obedience I owe Him. When I think of God as Owner, I owe Him not only my service, my obedience, and all my possessions, but my very self.

The Bible passage I am most familiar with that speaks of this is in 1 Cor. 6: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” I remember hearing a sermon illustration about a boy who made and then lost a toy boat. It showed up in a store, where someone had found it and offered it for sale. I suppose he could not prove it was his; in any case he went and bought the boat. Thus, he said, it was his twice – once because he made it, and again because he bought it. So we belong to God once because He made us, and again because He bought us back.

Another Scripture that I think of in this regard is Psalm 100. Verse 3 says

Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

I remember reading this one Wednesday night in 1985, when I had just found out I had to cancel a planned trip to visit my sister in Chicago because my car’s engine  needed major repairs (which I could not afford). It was one thing to try to accept this particular change of plans without complaining. But I was having a hard time with being joyful (as the previous two verses command). I felt that I at least had the right to feel that life was being a bit unfair. (This was immediately after a very bad year trying to teach 7th-10th grade Spanish.)

Then I read verse 3, and it reminded me that I belonged to God, and therefore my time and my car and my plans belonged to Him. What right did I have to object to what He chose to do with them? I can’t say I felt better at that point; instead I found that I did not like having everything that I thought was mine turn out not to be mine at all. I don’t remember how long it took to get over wanting things to be other than how they were. I suppose in a sense I haven’t, or at any rate I revert to that way of thinking more often than I would like to admit.

I picked the adjective “our” to go with Owner, to remind myself that there is that personal connection. I also remember a long-ago children’s sermon in the church where I grew up, in which the minister asked us to consider the difference between saying “my toys,” “my house,” “my parents,” and “my God.” My toys belonged to me, but I belonged to my God. I suppose I would still say “my God” or “our God” even if referring to an impersonal deity whom I worshipped. But even if the personal possessive pronoun doesn’t necessarily indicate a personal God, I believe that He is, and I choose to use that pronoun to remind me of that.

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