The other night I happened upon an article about Stéphane Breitwieser, arguably the world’s greatest art thief. What a shockingly fascinating read! The amount of art this guy stole is insane, but most interesting to me was the thinking that motivated his crimes. The author was able to interview Breitwieser himself, who describes the inner struggle that led to the first theft of hundreds:
He felt an urge to possess [the antique pistol]. The museum was small, no security guard or alarm system, just a volunteer at the entrance booth. The display case itself, Breitwieser noted, was partially open. He was wearing a backpack and could easily hide the pistol in there.
One must resist temptation, he knew. It even says so in the Bible, not that he was particularly religious. What our heart really wants, we must often deny. Maybe this is why so many people seem conflicted and miserable—we are taught to be at constant war with ourselves. As if that were a virtue.
What would happen, he wondered, if he did not resist temptation? If, instead, he fed temptation and freed himself from society’s repressive restraints?
This decision resulted in Breitwieser giving in completely to his impulses, resulting in hundreds of thefts from art museums, fairs, churches, and art dealerships. It’s estimated that he stole treasures worth more than 1.4 billion dollars, stashing them in his bedroom in the house where he lived with his mother. As he completely gave up the battle against his temptation, the desire increased:
A curious thing about temptation, at least in Breitwieser’s case, is that it never seems to abate. If anything, the more he feeds it, the hungrier it gets. The weekend after the ivory theft in Belgium, Breitwieser and Kleinklaus drive through the snow-streaked Alps to the Zurich art fair. Behind a dealer’s back, quick as a cat, he steals a spectacular goblet, filigreed with silver and gold, from the 16th century.
The entire article is worth reading from the perspective of a Christian making battle against sin, since it is such a vivid example of what happens when sin and temptation are completely in control of a person’s life. Also, it points out the reality of how we are all driven by desire. The key is the object of our desire. What (or whom) we desire is potentially the most important thing, because it will drive our actions and fuel everything we do.
What’s amazing is how people can get sucked into desiring physical stuff that eventually will get burned up (2 Peter 3:10-12)! This is especially mind-boggling when you consider the truth of scripture that all things are worthless in comparison with the glories of God in Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:8-11). Oh, for eyes to see this more in my own life! It is only by a work of God that my desires can be changed from the things of this world to the riches of Christ.