“Since God not only created us but purchased us as well—what can we regard as our own when we do not possess even ourselves?”


“What have you,” asks the Apostle, “that you have not received?” This means, beloved, that we should not be miserly, regarding possessions as our own, but should rather invest what has been entrusted to us. We have been entrusted with the administration and use of temporal wealth for the common good, not with the everlasting ownership of private property. If you accept the fact that ownership on earth is only for a time, you can earn eternal possessions in heaven.

Call to mind the widow who forgot herself in her concern for the poor, and, thinking only of the life to come, gave away all her means of subsistence, as the judge himself bears witness. Others, he says, have given of their superfluous wealth; but she, possessed of only two small coins and more needy perhaps than many of the poor—though in spiritual riches she surpassed all the wealthy—she thought only of the world to come, and had such a longing for heavenly treasure that she gave away, all at once, whatever she had that was derived from the earth and destined to return there.

Let us then invest with the Lord what he has given us, for we have nothing that does not come from him: we are dependent upon him for our very existence. And we ourselves particularly, who have a special and a greater debt, since God not only created us but purchased us as well—what can we regard as our own when we do not possess even ourselves?

But let us rejoice that we have been bought at a great price, the price of the Lord’s own blood, and that because of this we are no longer worthless slaves. For there is a freedom that is baser than slavery, namely, freedom from justice. Whoever has that kind of freedom is a slave of sin and a prisoner of death.

So let us give back to the Lord the gifts he has given us; let us give to him who receives in the person of every poor man or woman. Let us give gladly, I say, and great joy will be ours when we receive his promised reward.

St Paulinus of Nola

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9 Responses to “Since God not only created us but purchased us as well—what can we regard as our own when we do not possess even ourselves?”

  1. Wow. I need to ponder on that. Prisoner of death. That is profound. And the fact he explains so well all that is mine Is from God. And that to receive heavenly things we need to acknowledge earthly things are temporal – else we are so busy clinging to them we cannot either see or trust heavenly things. Wow! Father Kimal. Yet again you blow me away with your posts. Thankyou.

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  2. Gman says:

    “And we ourselves particularly, who have a special and a greater debt, since God not only created us but purchased us as well—what can we regard as our own when we do not possess even ourselves?”

    Well, unless you want to go hardcore Calvinist on me, then a fairly obvious answer would be “my decisions”, which are of me and not God. Further, “purchasing” a person is by any moral standard an inherently invalid transaction, and hence carries absolutely no moral weight upon that person.

    Also, an obvious rejoinder would be: what has God that he did not receive? Why should him happening to be the only lucky instance of consciousness paired with absolute power entitle him to anything?

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    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      A strange take, largely unrelated to what was actually written.
      What is expressly being referred to is the ownership of material possessions, so I am a bit puzzled as to what, if anything, you are talking about regarding “owning ones own decisions” which doesn’t seem to have anything much to do with the passage quoted.
      The “purchase” concerned being referenced as an analogy is the purchase of a slave in order to free them from slavery, a transaction which I would have thought carried a fair moral debt on the slave to the person who paid to free them.
      The question as to what God “received” makes no sense at all, since the point of what is being said is that everything that is came from God created out of nothing, so there is nothing God could receive nor anyone or anything God could receive it from.

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    • David says:

      Interesting comment!

      “Well, unless you want to go hardcore Calvinist on me, then a fairly obvious answer would be “my decisions”, which are of me and not God.”

      I think you are right that (at least some of) our decisions are up to us and not to God, in the sense that God does not determine our decisions. Yet God is still the *cause* of all our decisions, in the sense that God is the ontological ground of every finite being.

      You might also think of parents who entrust a new toy to their child and give them responsibility over it. The toy now ‘belongs to’ the child but, in a certain sense, remains the possession of the parent – the child is not the legal owner of the toy, the parent is, although what happens to the toy is clearly up to the child and not the parent.

      “Further, “purchasing” a person is by any moral standard an inherently invalid transaction, and hence carries absolutely no moral weight upon that person.”

      I think the language of ‘purchasing’ is figurative: it’s not like God has literally paid money in exchange for us. But it is valid to reflect on the fact that – according to the Christian story – we owe not only our existence to God, but also are ‘saved’ by God, which I understand the ‘purchase’ language is referring to (i.e. God’s sacrifice in Jesus metaphorically ‘purchasing’ our souls and thus ending our slavery to sin)

      We normally recognise that we have a special moral duty to those that bought us into being – our parents – and, should somebody ever save our lives, they will hold a special place in our heart as well. Analogously, we owe God a similar debt. Of course, we are obligated to do what is right and to fulfil our duties towards our fellow human beings (and God) regardless, but I don’t see the harm in reflecting on the special dependency we have on God as a kind of extra incentive to obey the Good.

      “Also, an obvious rejoinder would be: what has God that he did not receive? Why should him happening to be the only lucky instance of consciousness paired with absolute power entitle him to anything?”

      Traditionally it is said that God is not dependent on anything, and so does not ‘receive’ anything as you claim. If literally everything, including God, were dependent on an act of ‘receiving’ from elsewhere, then nothing could exist.

      The language of God being ‘a lucky instance of consciousness paired with absolute power’ implies that you are thinking of God as composite – composed of consciousness on the one hand, and certain capacities (absolute power) on the other – which just so happen to hang together in a single composite entity called God but could just as easily exist separately or not at all. But this kind of composition is incompatible with classical theism as it would entail that God were dependent on something else – i.e. whatever it was, whether chance or necessity, that made the consciousness hang together with the power – in which case God would stand in need of another and therefore would not be the ultimate explanation of the world and therefore would not be God after all.

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      • Gman says:

        “I think you are right that (at least some of) our decisions are up to us and not to God, in the sense that God does not determine our decisions. Yet God is still the *cause* of all our decisions, in the sense that God is the ontological ground of every finite being.”

        In which case God would also be the *cause* of every sin, every crime, from least to greatest, ever committed in the history of man. Yet I don’t hear many Christians rushing to credit him with those, though logically he would be as inseparable from them as anything else.

        “I think the language of ‘purchasing’ is figurative: it’s not like God has literally paid money in exchange for us. But it is valid to reflect on the fact that – according to the Christian story – we owe not only our existence to God, but also are ‘saved’ by God, which I understand the ‘purchase’ language is referring to (i.e. God’s sacrifice in Jesus metaphorically ‘purchasing’ our souls and thus ending our slavery to sin)”

        That’s very nice and all, but only until you think about it and realize that if we were in slavery it could only be because God put us there directly, whether explicitly as in Calvinism or just by locking us in a room with a slaver he knowingly made far more powerful than us, which amounts to the same thing anyway.

        “Traditionally it is said that God is not dependent on anything, and so does not ‘receive’ anything as you claim. If literally everything, including God, were dependent on an act of ‘receiving’ from elsewhere, then nothing could exist.”

        Whence comes God? If from himself, what about him makes him himself rather than someone else?

        “But this kind of composition is incompatible with classical theism as it would entail that God were dependent on something else – i.e. whatever it was, whether chance or necessity, that made the consciousness hang together with the power – in which case God would stand in need of another and therefore would not be the ultimate explanation of the world and therefore would not be God after all.”

        That’s a very neat little system, but sadly is incompatible with the image of a God who does one thing and not the other (choosing the Jews instead of, say, the Inuit for example). Let alone one who is said to incarnate in a particular Galilean at a particular place and time, and not as a Cossack, or an Incan, or a Nigerian, or a Manchu, or a Viking, or a walrus, or whatever else and then proceeds to make particular decisions down to the level of, presumably, what to have for breakfast in the morning. Unless you want to argue that Jesus of Nazareth eating the specific loaf of bread that he actually did at the exact time that he did was from all eternity necessary to and synonymous with God as such then you’re left with a God who has unrealized potential and as such is not absolutely simple, however much theological sophistry may be employed to disguise that fact.

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        • myshkin says:

          yes. a “very neat little system . . . however much theological sophistry may be employed to disguise that fact”. we are reluctant, i have found, to really discuss the implications of simplicity, but, i think Gman has described one of the possible implications. there is nothing in what he describes that would contradict simplicity.
          the point about the bread is fantastic. What of that particular piece of bread?. during my move from Baptist to Papist, in response to my questions on Our Lady, it was pointed out that Mary was necessary in the sense that there were no replacements waiting in the wings. Had she said no, i was told, God didn’t have a replacement Mary; i buy this explanation without any reservation, so I’ve already bought into this scandalous particularity with regards to Her, why not a piece of bread.
          but think even more deeply than that. Our Lord got his humanity from Her and her existence is a product of all the creaturely existence that came before Her. She is a particular reality because of Joachim and Anne. Joachim and Anne are particular and necessary realities because of their particular parents without which there is no Mary; there is no Jesus of Nazareth. each of Joachim and Anne’s parents are particular and necessary realities because without them there is no Joachim and Anne and then there is no Mary, and then there is no Jesus Christ.
          now we can wrap our mind around why Mary might be necessary, but a piece of bread? What if that piece of bread is the inevitable conclusion of a chain of events going back 14 billion years. that piece of bread isn’t just a piece of bread. there are a trillion facts, decisions and choices made for aeons that led up to that piece of bread. I wonder if that piece of bread is a lot more necessary as a conclusion to a chain of events than we may like to think.
          I know, so what do we do w/evil. don’t know how to answer that in a public forum; in the quiet cell of my heart i have a sense of how things were, are, and will be, but that is for each of us to wrestle with and my personal answer will likely sound like ghastly nonsense to the story of your life.
          anyways, thanks for sharing your thoughts on the matter.

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  3. My decisions are not always mine! They are based on past pain and trauma, coloured by world lies and pressure. Once could ask how many decisions do I make that actually are based on hunger, fear, lies, bias, control of others? In fact, I suggest very little of what I do is actually my freewill choice. Why? Because others decide they are more important! My decision are forced by my social/ economical/ past experience background. CHRIST was the only fully human being who lived his choices based on obedience to Father, not just looking out for Himself. So that, I, when listening and obeying Him could finally and in actuality be free to truly make a real decision of my own! Yes, I am free to say no. And go back to listening to other pressures as I live for myself. With God, HE deals with those pressures! No matter how big or powerful they are! So I want my Papa! My Papa fights my battles and is for me! He never forces me or keeps me down! But raises me up! Blesses me! Why should God be entitled to anything? I am His. And created by Him. Out of pure generosity he gave me life. I threw that life away. He came and rescued me so I could live it again….and again…and again….Never asking for payment or getting angry. Always covering me with love and forgiveness and so much mercy. He does not force ownership. He offers relationship. Why? He loves me! Because just as the designer knows how and why his blue print needs to be so that it becomes it’s best capacity, so God knows what makes me at my best. Knows what hurts me. What crushes me. In fact, knows me better than I do myself, as He is my creator. He never insists. He asks. Nicely. Longingly. Lovingly. And as a child longs to be with their Papa and learn from them, just be with them, so I want to learn from my Papa, just be with Him. Just near Him, because I feel His love. And I love Him. It’s not and never was about ownership. It has always been about relationship.

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    • dianelos says:

      Of course our biology and in particular our environment affect our decisions, but they do not determine them. To some significant degree it’s we who nudge our path this way or that, and thus determine the direction of our life story. That’s why we consider that people are to some significant degree personally responsible. Finally, as we know from personal experience and as the ancient Fathers have pointed out, the purer our soul (or the closer to the state God meant it to be) the stronger we are to determine our decisions, and thus the more free we are. Conversely the sinful person becomes a slave to their sinfulness and possesses little freedom. It is therefore the sinful that most need help and support in order to escape the dungeon they have fallen in.

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