Debt Limit Crisis
by Pastor George Van Alstine
It’s all we hear about on TV news this week, so I might as well write about it. I’m trying an exercise to keep me from becoming politically cynical. Every time I hear a report about the latest blustery challenge from a politician, I’m going to apply it to the debt limit crisis in my own life.
You see, I’m in debt to God up to my ears! First of all, he created me in his image, breathed into my earthly body a unique personality with awesome potential to accomplish positive things in my world. I’m indebted to him for that. But instead of using my few brief years on earth to maximize that potential for his glory and the good of others, I’ve spent it on my own pleasures and indulgences, and this sin, as the Bible calls it, has increased my debt immensely.
Here are some things the daily news reports are teaching me about myself:
There’s a point at which my debt will become so great that I will collapse spiritually. How much can God forgive? How long will he put up with my willfulness and rebellion? Maybe this next sin will put me over the limit, so that God gives up on me. Then my house-of-cards spiritual economy will come crashing down, and I will be lost. This is why I have great anxiety about increasing my debt limit: maybe God will foreclose.
My spiritual debt seems to grow bigger and bigger, no matter what I try. Everything around me seems to cost more. Sins that once seemed like spontaneous youthful exuberance, now involve serious planning before and heavy regrets afterward. Scars from past sins have left accumulated burdens as well. Sometimes it seems that every person I look at brings memories of hurt feeling or broken relationships. As the debt keeps growing, I increasingly lose hope that I will ever be able to pay it off.
I have an internal partisan debate about how to handle my debt crisis. On one side, I argue for spending cuts— committing fewer costly sins. On the other side, I argue for increased revenue—being more faithful in church attendance, tithing, helping good causes. I have a heated argument with myself about which approach would be more effective, ultimately coming to some kind of a balance between self-control and good works as the way I should try to please God and limit my debt. In the end, the monstrous debt is still there.
I realize that my increasing debt affects many other people. The National debt limit crisis has the potential to cause economic chaos in Americans’ personal finances, as well as in economic systems of nations all over the world. In the same way, my moral debt touches the lives of many other people. My family members are most immediately affected, but my church associates, my neighbors and the people I work with are also negatively impacted when I increase my debt by sinning. Every small act of self-indulgence causes ripples all around me.
I am constantly trying to blame others for my debt. Following the lead of our National political parties, I am very anxious to avoid the blame for my dangerously growing debt. My wife drove me to it; my parents gave me the wrong genes; it was the environment around me; etc. Actually, my attempts to avoid responsibility are themselves sins that add to my debt. And so it grows.
I still take my debt crisis to the very edge, trying to avoid making a decisive change. Though I know how high the stakes are, I still play moral brinkmanship. I still toy with sin, betting on the hope that this added debt will not be the one to bring my life down. If I’m an alcoholic, I’m willing to stake my life on the chance that one more drink won’t hurt. If I’m spending money on myself that could be used to buy a meal for a homeless person, I’m wagering that he will make it through one more night on the street. Based on my actions today, no one would guess that my moral debt is so dangerously large.
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Cool analogy, right? Well, here’s where it breaks down. Suppose some immensely rich person, richer than all the Warren Buffets, Bill Gates and Saudi Arabian sheiks combined, went on TV tonight and announced that he was personally paying off the entire $14.46 trillion national debt, so the National crisis was over! Wouldn’t that be great? Republicans and Democrats standing by in disbelief, no longer able to blame each other, with no more debt problem to deal with. Even President Obama standing in the shadows, as all the spotlights are on—the savior! That’s what he would be, the one who saved our economy, our Nation, maybe the world, from disaster.
Jesus stepped into my personal debt crisis. I couldn’t pay it; I couldn’t even limit it. And he paid my immense debt, just like that. That’s what grace is all about. He’s my Savior!
Bad news: the super-rich savior of the US economy doesn’t exist.
Good News: the spiritual Savior, Jesus Christ does. And he wants to make an appointment with you about your personal debt.