Research have found strong ties between personal debt and mental health. Debt, foreclosure, and bankruptcy are shown to be strong predictors of depression, anxiety, and psychological distress. For anyone who’s experienced debt, that’s probably not a surprise. And as Americans, my guess is that most of us have some familiarity with the idea of debt.
Debt stands in the way of what we want, and it robs us of our freedom.
We can’t just by the thing we want because we owe someone. We can’t just go on the trip we want because we have a bill that’s overdue. Debt stands between us and the things we want to do. Debt stands between us and freedom.
It’s very possible that you may have never considered this, but central to our faith is a financial metaphor. The word "forgiveness" is a debt metaphor. Consider the words of Paul in Colossians 2:13-14:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
Jesus uses the same kind of financial language when he teaches the disciples how to pray by saying, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
Forgiveness utilizes the language of debt, payments, and IOUs. It’s the relationship between creditors and debtors. We’ve overspent our accounts with every act of rebellion against God and we have a bill that needs to be paid. And just like in the financial world, many of us utilize get-out-of-debt strategies in our spiritual lives.
*note: I am indebted to the post Creditors, Debtors, Forgiveness, and God for helping shape many of these ideas
One way that people will try to get out of debt is by financial growth. If they can work hard enough, accumulate enough wealth, and grow their assets, eventually the debt that they owe can be paid for and they can move on. The strategy isn't paying of the debt, it's growing wealth enough that the size of the debt no longer matters.
The problem is this is difficult, hard, and rare when it comes to finances. And when it comes to our relationship with God, it’s impossible. But the attitude creeps in - we see our debt and we want to make things right so we commit to doing more, to work really hard, to pay God back, and to make things right. We find a way to right our wrongs and give back to the world. And you might do a lot of really good things, but this strategy believes the lie that tells us, “I can be good enough.” And when we believe the lie, we end up trapped in debt, not freed from it.
Growth doesn’t happen as we get ourselves out of spiritual debt, it happens as we find ourselves in the place that we’re spiritually bankrupt without Jesus.
2) Changing the Terms
The other way that people will try to get out of debt is by changing the terms. The idea with this is that if they can manage to change the terms of the original agreement, the debt becomes more manageable. If they can work out an agreement with the bank, they can change the interest rate, consolidate the debt, or refinance and the debt will become more payable.
Again, we do this same thing when it comes to our relationship with God.
We find ways to negotiate with God. We try to convince him and convince ourselves to lower the standard. We know we’re in debt, but we try to get a better deal so our debt can be more payable. We’ll look at the terms of the agreement and when Jesus says something like, “Be perfect, therefore, as you heavenly Father is perfect,” we’ll say - well he couldn’t have meant “perfect.” And instead of considering the possibility that Jesus meant perfect, we’ll try to make the terms payable by our good intentions. We'll come up with a plan that makes the Law do-able and debts payable.
The third way that people will choose to deal with their debt is to ignore the debt. Eventually the reality of facing the problem becomes too much, and they’ll give up on their end of the contract. Once the person who's in debt stops paying whats due, that’s called defaulting.
This happens too when it comes to our spiritual lives when many of us drift. Defaulting in our relationship with God is when we ignore God and we ignore sin. We just do what we want to do with no regard to the cost.
And at first, this might seem like a good strategy. After all before the debt catches up to you, you can do all the things you want. You can open up new lines of credit while ignoring the other debts. You can buy the TV and the car and the vacation and live in a fantasy world where the debt is nonexistent. But eventually it catches up to you. Your debt always catches up to you.
And it's in that moment that you find out that what was fun isn't giving you freedom and joy, it's now robbing you of it. The same is true of sin. Sin can be fun for a season. We can do the things we want to do while ignoring the cost and the consequences. But eventually that debt will catch up to us. And once it does we are reminded that what we thought was good robs us of our freedom instead of giving us freedom.
This final way that debts can be dealt with is the only way that is truly freeing.. Jesus tells a story about this in Matthew 18:
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’
Now notice what happens here. The servant is trying to re-negotiate. He’s trying to change the deal; he’s asking for more time. And the Master doesn’t give him what he asks for.
And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
Maybe you’re in a season where you’ve been trying to negotiate with God. Maybe you’ve been asking him for just a few more months to make things right. Maybe you’ve been looking for a little bit more time to invest in your own spiritual health so you can right your wrongs.
Jesus ignores you’re negotiation and does one better.
Jesus cancels your debts with his blood. He reads your statement, he sees the charges, and where it says “amount owed,” he stamps in blood red, “paid in full.” Jesus nailed your IOUs to the cross and when he died, so did your debt. And when he came out of the grave, your debts didn’t follow him.
Your debt is gone.
Paid. In. Full.