How Should We Manage Our Debts?
- Thursday, September 25, 2008
Generosity is relative—like a man with a hole in his shoe is better off than a man with no shoes. We read in Romans 13:8: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.” We need to look beyond our problems and our self-absorbed view of our situation and in love look to others and how they live. We can easily fool ourselves into being less than generous. We can pretend that someone wealthier, with less money hassles, will help the poor. We can also think that all the solutions will come from someone else because we are too wrapped up in our own problems.
What we ought to be doing is looking at how we might help others with their debt. This can be done by helping those in our own family with their problems, offering to help a neighbor, or volunteering through our church or a community group to offer debt counseling. More than having money given to them, many people just need help to find a solution before they fall deeper into debt. In some cases, being generous with our time can be far more valuable than being generous with our money.
How do our concerns look when compared to the generosity of God’s grace? When we forget to pray? When we forget to give thanks or acknowledge that we owe all to God? When we turn away from the generosity he shows us? When we do not share this knowledge of him? When we do not use our gifts and experience to serve him in the world? At times like these, we are like the servant who demands his one hundred denarii. Our demands cost the King dearly. The price of God’s grace was the life of his Son, Jesus Christ. How cheaply we turn from him when we deny that we owe all to him.
The Bible opens with the account of God as creator of all that is in the world. We read of our broken relationship with him. When we give him praise, then we acknowledge that he is the creator God. When we give him thanks, we acknowledge that he is the one who has been generous to us. When we submit ourselves to him, we acknowledge our debt to him. When we act as if we did it all ourselves and deny others a share of his generosity, then we turn away from him in sin.
The opposite of generosity is greed. Theologians who criticize the free enterprise system often assume that greed is what makes capitalism work. They argue that greed is part of the “sinful structure” of the free market. This suggests that all people in the free market economy act greedily, except presumably those who advocate such a view! Their argument avoids the fact that greed is about people, not structures. People can be greedy for things economic or noneconomic. While there are many greedy people, the majority are just trying to get by.
What the great classical economic writers put at the center of the free market system is not greed but self-interest. This is where there is confusion. Doing the self-interested thing is not the same as doing the selfish thing. A few years back I met a guy on a train who had gambled away his house, marriage, and family. He was pretty much broke. Do you know where he was going? Back to the racetrack! We can spend our money on gambling, a selfish indulgence. It is not in our self-interest economically; like this fellow, we could lose everything.
The ambition of the gambler is to buy security and happiness in one giant leap. The ambition of the Christian is to receive God’s grace, which cannot be bought cheaply. God’s grace has already been bought for us on the cross. In Christ alone we find our ambition. Eric Liddell, the Scottish runner turned missionary, said that when he ran he felt God’s pleasure. When we are succeeding, achieving things, we too can feel God’s pleasure. When we live in Christ—knowing that we are up to our eyeballs in debt—when we acknowledge that what we do is for God, when we turn to help others out of their debt, then we will feel God’s pleasure.
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