One of Neal A. Maxwell’s most memorable themes was that we have nothing but our wills to give God that was not already his. As he put it, “The many other things we ‘give’ are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us” (Neal A. Maxwell, If Thou Endure It Well, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996, pg. 55.). He expounded on this theme frequently and his reasoning seemed to hinge on the idea that whatever thing we think is ours is really God’s because he enabled us to obtain it in one way or other. We could not have it without air to breath, or earth to live on, etc. etc.
Over the last couple of weeks there has been a political controversy raging over a statement by President Obama of which the money quote is something along the lines of “If you have a business, you didn’t build that, somebody else made that happen.” For my purposes here, I don’t much care about the resulting political controversy. Republicans used the quote out of context to say Obama doesn’t think business owners built their businesses, democrats pointed out he was only referring to roads and bridges that the businesses didn’t build, republicans fired back noting that busnesses do, in fact, pay for the roads and bridges through property/state/local taxes. Yawn.
The interesting thing about this to me was my realization that President Obama’s actual argument is grounded in the same logic as Neal A. Maxwell’s oft repeated point about God owning everything. If I tell someone at church that God didn’t really give me everything because some of the my things I made through my own effort and ingenuity, they are likely to respond by telling me that I wouldn’t have had the energy to do anything without food that God provided. If I grew my own food, then God gave me soil and water, etc. If I tell Pres Obama that I made my business successful through personal risk and hard work, he is likely to point out that I couldn’t have done these things without public roads and public police. The logic that underlies both positions is that you don’t really own your things if you relied on someone else in some aspect to enable the circumstances in which you built the things you have.
It feels like just yesterday I was posting on this topic, but I was shocked to learn that it was back in 2007 that I took issue with the concept of ownership undergirding Elder Maxwell’s argument. I don’t think God deserves all the credit for the good things I do anymore than he deserves all the credit for the bad things I do. The air I breath was required for both the good and the bad things, just as there are roads in front of both thriving and failing businesses.
I won’t rehash all my points from that older post, go back and read it if you are interested. But, if you are one of those people who disagrees with Pres. Obama and agrees with Elder Maxwell, use this opportunity to get a new perspective on the (wrong-headed) premise that lies at the heart of both of their points.