Do You Practice ‘Finders Keepers’?
HOW do you feel when you find something valuable that someone has lost?
Does it arouse in you an immediate feeling of possession, causing you to wave aside thoughts of returning it, with a ‘finders keepers’ philosophy?
Or perhaps you do not take such a callous view. Then, do you begin to rationalize about returning it, with thoughts such as: ‘The person shouldn’t have been so negligent as to lose it, anyway,’ or, ‘I don’t know who the owner is. It’s not my responsibility to find out—besides, it’s too much trouble’?
It is very easy for anyone to think this way. But how does God view this matter of returning lost items?
We can find out by looking into the law he gave through Moses dealing with this very circumstance. It says: “When you see a fellow-countryman’s ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but take it back to him. If the owner is not a near neighbour and you do not know who he is, take the animal into your own house and keep it with you until he claims it, and then give it back to him. Do the same with his ass or his cloak or anything else that your fellow-countryman has lost, if you find it. You may not ignore it.”—Deut. 22:1-3, The New English Bible.
In the case of lost animals, it would cost the finder something out of his own pocket to feed the animal until its owner appeared, but this was no excuse to keep the animal for oneself or to let it wander as lost, perhaps to be stolen or attacked by dogs or wild animals.
On the other hand, what would take place if the individual who found the item put it with his own possessions and did not return it? If caught and found guilty, he was counted as a thief. The law said: “As regards any case of transgression, concerning a bull, an ass, a sheep, a garment, anything lost of which he may say, ‘This is it!’ the case of them both is to come to the true God. The one whom God will pronounce wicked is to make double compensation to his fellow.”—Ex. 22:9; compare Exodus 22:1, 4.
Such a case would come before the elders of the town, who acted as representatives of God in judging such matters. By investigation they would uncover the facts, then apply the law. Usually, lost articles found in someone else’s possession can be identified by certain markings and peculiarities, and by witnesses who are familiar with the object. In the smaller communities in Israel this would have been especially true.
If a man was found to be holding some object he had found, how could he rightly be accused as a thief? How would the judges know that he was not merely holding it until its owner appeared? By the fact that he had not given proper notice and made sufficient effort to locate the owner. The honest person would have notified the elders of the town as well as others that he had found a certain article and was holding it for the owner. The keeper of the item would then be free from accusation.
Undoubtedly, if proper efforts had been made to find the owner and the finder waited a reasonable length of time, he would have been allowed to sell it or otherwise dispose of it.
BEWARE OF TEMPTATION
A person who would not normally steal can be tempted by finding a lost item. He can become covetous and actually fall into the category of a thief. God views such a person as sinning, not only against the owner of the article, but also against God himself. When an individual’s conscience brings him to the realization of what he has done, he should quickly straighten out matters with the person wronged and pray to God for forgiveness.—Matt. 5:23, 24.
What is the personality trait that motivates a person who finds something and selfishly keeps it without making a discreet but thorough effort to restore it to its owner, or who demands a reward? GREED. And greedy persons will not get everlasting life from God.—1 Cor. 6:10.
MAKE EFFORTS TO FIND THE OWNER
Someone may ask, ‘To what extent should I make efforts to find the owner of a lost item?’ Note the following experience of one of Jehovah’s witnesses that provides a good example:
A man from San Francisco lost a wallet containing $395 as he got out of a taxicab in New York city. One of Jehovah’s witnesses found it. He called a New York hotel where the information in the wallet indicated the man was staying. However, the man had left for London. From reservation papers found, the Witness was able to locate the man in London by long-distance telephone. Following the telephone conversation, in which the man expressed his gratitude, the wallet with its contents minus only postage costs was mailed to the man’s place of business in San Francisco.
Items you might find would rarely be as valuable as this. Nonetheless, the principle stated by Jesus applies: “The person faithful in what is least is faithful also in much, and the person unrighteous in what is least is unrighteous also in much. Therefore, if you have not proved yourselves faithful in connection with the unrighteous riches, who will entrust you with what is true? And if you have not proved yourselves faithful in connection with what is another’s, who will give you what is for yourselves? No house servant can be a slave to two masters; for, either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stick to the one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves to God and to riches.”—Luke 16:10-13.
Though returning a lost item is generally a small matter, it truly involves the questions, Whom or what do I serve as my God? and, Do I do to others as I want them to do to me?—Matt. 7:12.
As to a reward, the honest person does not want that which belongs to another. There is a greater reward in having a good conscience, with happiness. “Happy are those observing justice, doing righteousness all the time.” (Ps. 106:3) Besides, if it is not done in a spirit of self-righteousness, our honesty may recommend to the other person the truth of God’s Word, with its fine principles. It is one of the ways by which we can ‘make the truth manifest,’ thereby “recommending ourselves to every human conscience in the sight of God,” as his ministers.—2 Cor. 4:2.