As a Credit Manager, for a furniture manufacturer, I am very aware of debt and the driving force it has on our society. Each day I see so many companies that have given up and filed bankruptcy, because it has become impossible to manage. Some days have hundreds of bankruptcy filings. As a family with two auto loans, a camper loan, student loan and credit cards, my husband and I are very aware of the oppressive weight that debt can hold over our lives. We (personal or corporate) do not want to be in debt, but we are drawn in to the “gotta have it” mentality and then once in debt, it become very difficult to get out and stay out. It reminds me of trying to diet. We go one pound down and two pounds up, until we wake up one morning and realize that we have no idea how we got to where we are.
Let me try to give some perspective to the debt situation in the United States. With the U.S. National Debt Clock ticking, up to $10,624,404,037,210.22 on January 27, 2009 and the ever increasing Consumer Debt at $2.6 trillion, we are well in over our heads. If the estimated population of the U.S. is 305,539,618 then each one of us, from my three year old grandson to my 80 year old Father-in-law, owe $43,000 each. The average household size is 2.59 persons, which makes the household share of this debt $112,076 and since the median household income is only $50,000, we are in serious trouble.
In my work, over the years, I have been fascinated by people and their ways of dealing with debt. Some pay according to the agreement with the lender and take their commitment with all seriousness. Others pay according to their ability or the convenience of making a payment, regardless of what is owed. These people become indignant when questioned about or reminded of their debt. There are debtors that acknowledge their debt and make payments when reminded, but otherwise do not think much about it. These are the people that will only pay those debts that are brought to their attention. There are also those who simply do not acknowledge their debt and have no intention of paying it. This list is not exhausted, because it is as long as the list of people in the world, but it gives us an idea and I suspect we can put ourselves in one of these categories.
When each of us finally come to the place where we are ready to face our debt, we find that we are either totally overwhelmed and can hardly see a future of freedom or we determine that it is nothing more than a nuisance, but not a priority. We may decide that debt is really something other people have a problem with, but ours is totally under control. Some may actually have the attitude that debt is the lenders issue, not the borrowers and this is a very dangerous conclusion to draw, as it removes us from all responsibility of our debt.
Scripture is quite clear about debt. Proverbs 22:7, says, “…the borrower is servant to the lender.” and in 22:26-27, “Do not be a man who strikes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts; if you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you”. Romans 13:8 states “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.” I do not think God can be any clearer and we have not even looked at all of the passages that warn us about being in debt or lending.
Financial debt, the debt of money borrowed and repayment owed, is something that we are all aware of and understand. Is is the force that drives our economy and can ruin our families. It can take an entrepreneurial dream and turn it into a bankrupt nightmare. It is a predicament that can start war and end in death. It is something that can make an average, upstanding, moral man turn to crime to make ends meet. A family with all the comforts the world can imagine may suddenly find themselves living in a shelter or worse, on the street. As overwhelming and impossible as this all may seem, it is nothing when compared to the debt of sin that we owe. If you thought $10,624,404,037,210.22 was a big number, try putting a value on the debt of our sin as viewed by the eyes of the innocent one who paid our debt on the cross. If we work hard and live within our means, we may someday find freedom from our financial debt to others. The only means we have to pay off our sin debt is the gift of Grace that God provided through his Son, Jesus Christ. We can not live within our means and do anything good. As Paul said, “our best is but filthy rags”. It is God, and God alone, that can make all things new.
As clear as Scripture is about financial debt, it is just as clear about our debt of sin. Romans 3:23, says “for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.” and 6:23 tells us that, “For the wages of sin is death….”. The hope of Christ is found in Colossians 2:13-14 which says, “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”
Just as people respond to financial debt in various ways, we respond to sin debt in the same manner. To some, sin is overwhelming and seems impossible. For others, it is a nuisance, but not a big deal. Sin just means a little guilt now and then. Many of us see sin as something other people have a problem with or that it is God’s issue, not the sinner’s. You know, if he didn’t make so many rules, we would not have so many problems. We have very unhealthy attitude about both debt & sin. We become flippant about financial debt (only $20 on my JCP card), until it becomes a hopeless problem. We become flippant about sin debt (only a little gossip, only a $1 lottery ticket, not really a bad word, gluttony?, greed?, I’ve gotta have it….), until we begin to suffer the consequences of the sin. Then it becomes a mountain.
I have worked with people who have paid off huge debt over a long period of time. It seemed impossible, but when it is done, they felt great and I felt great. In those times, when I have worked with them to pay off the debt or I was able to write off a portion to help them out, it is as if they have a fresh start. What if, after the debt was clear, they continued to work on it and worry about it and call me? That would not make sense. I would feel bad that I could not convince them that it is finished. What if they turned around and ordered another $10,000, with no more ability to pay than the did before? I would feel that all my work was for nothing. So how do we suppose Jesus feels, when he said, “It is finished” – John 19:30 and yet we continue to trying to fix it (pay it off) ourselves? Why do we continue to carry it around and beat ourselves up? Why do we just turn around and do it again? Why do we have such a hard time living in the freedom that Christ provides? The answer is simple, “…the Devil prowls around, like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” 1 Peter 5:8 and “…by our own evil desire, we are dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown gives birth to death.” James 1:14-15. This is an internal, ongoing battle that is not going to go away.