“Pay to all what is due them– taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:7-8 NRS).
(Image courtesy of money.msn.com)
My first real job, one that required me to fill out a W2, was working as a bill collector in debt collection. Not the norm for a nineteen year old, but it paid really well and I was good at it. It opened my eyes in ways that formal education never has, and it revealed just how vulnerable to temptation human beings are. The Bible tells us not to be in debt. The Apostle Paul exhorted the church in Rome to be solvent, letting only one debt go unpaid, and that is the one we have to continually love one another. That debt will never be paid, void, or canceled. So why are so many of us up to our eyeballs in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and struggling just to stay afloat on line after line of credit?
There is no easy answer, no simple explanation to that question. The answers are as numerous as the persons who find themselves in that financial state of being in debt. With the exception of healthcare debt, much of personal debt results from greed. We want, but we cannot afford, so we buy on credit. It is not that we wanted an Italian sports car or even a multi-million dollar mansion, but that we wanted something just out of our reach, and we used a line of credit to extend our reach to grasp something we wanted, but not necessarily needed: a slightly nicer vehicle, a house with a bigger yard in a nicer neighborhood with the sweet deck out back, an updated wardrobe, the latest technological gadget, a memorable vacation with all the stops pulled out, and other things we all would love to have, but have a hard time accepting might not be in the cards. So we allow ourselves to fall into the temptation to buy on credit without a clear and defined plan of repayment, and that often means cutting back or cutting things out all together. Maybe if we had been just a little more patient, we could have even deferred the purchase and it would have been within our financial means at a future date.
What does any of this have to do with God? Everything. Many of the behaviors and mindsets that allow us to become in debt are the very same that prevent us from being in right relationship with God and one another. They are the things that lead to sin. Greed and the notions that we deserve certain things, so we need to do what we can to get them, even if that means ultimately stealing from a financial institution that has its own bills and responsibilities to pay its employees. Our inflated sense of self at the expense of the communal living of the Body of Christ allows us to refrain from considering how our actions affect others, impact them negatively, and fracture our relationships over something as eternally insignificant as money. Our emphasis on ourselves also detracts from our emphasis on God. I have yet to meet the person who went into debt to tithe, because tithing requires us to be intentional about our finances and how we spend, as well as save, so that we gave give to God. If we were as obsessed with giving to God as we are about acquiring, then we would not go into debt, but work all the harder to ensure that we were honoring God rather than giving into our temptations. Lastly, we are embarrassed of our debt, and so we lie about it, and lie to avoid confronting it. As a bill collector, people lied to me all the time, almost every conversation. They would lie about their name, whether they were home, if they sent a payment, if the debt was valid, etc. They lie, and so they sin.
Somewhere in heaven, God shakes God’s head at this quagmire of debt we have allowed ourselves to become imprisoned within, and mourns the ways in which we have let debt become a destructive force in our lives. We are supposed to be earning a living to support ourselves and the Church of Jesus Christ, not going into debt to have things that will never bring us the kind of eternal joy that our relationship with God can. While we pine away for that next thing, we could be meditating on the Scriptures or working out how to enact our faith tomorrow. As we reach for the credit card or click “bill me later,” we could be reaching out to others with our actual hands in the service of love, acts of kindness and mercy. We have this massive debt to love one another, and we can only make payments on it when we consciously choose to stop racking up the monetary kind. We are called to serve God, not our desires. We are called to withstand the temptations of this world, not become enslaved to them as debtors. With God’s help and our purposefulness, we can overcome. The Father gave us the power to choose. The Son liberated us to live as free people. So now let us embrace the power of the Holy Spirit to reject the forces of wickedness that disguise themselves in material wealth and credit lines without means of repayment. Let us take a road less traveled and live to give of ourselves, our time, and our money for the glory of God.
Free me, Father,
From the lure of debt.
Liberate me, Lord,
From the temptation to acquire at all costs.
Help me to refrain from living beyond my means,
And live within your grace instead.
May I become the master of my money,
And give it in your praise,
Rather than owe it to my greed.