January 19, 2011

Forgive us our Debts

Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding - Romans 13 7-8

I think I've been in debt of some sort for over ten years. Now, some of that debt was your typical "credit card debt" which I would pay off fairly regularly. But two years of unemployment and two years of under-employment later, I wasn't paying off the credit cards so much as living off them, something I'm still feeling the effects of today.

And the sad thing is my response to money owed is most often a very child-like behavior: "If I just keep my eyes closed, maybe the debt will go away."

I will say there have been times when money has multiplied, when money has appeared when I most needed it... and then there were the times when I missed a deadline to pay and ended up in a worse situation.

When we pray the Lord's prayer, we (protestants) say "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." I wish that God would swoop in sometimes and forgive a debt, but I'm not entirely sure that is what He promised to do. As you read the scripture above, it doesn't say "pay taxes when you feel like it and when someone you like is in office." No, it says if you owe taxes, pay them. I suppose God would similarly say "If you bought it on a credit card, pay the bill."

Being a Christian doesn't mean we can close our eyes to our responsibilities. God wants us especially to honor our debts and commitments, to show the world that we are righteous people who don't ignore the rules.

The interesting thing about debt in the US is that once you've paid it off (and waited a few years) it will be removed from your credit history. Wow. How nice is that to know that seven or so years after my last debt payment, my report will be clean.

And that actually reminds me of the other scripture that pops up when you enter "debt," where they talk about the Year of Jubilee. Now in this year all debts are cancelled, which is absolutely awesome. I would love for someone to have come to me five years ago and say "Ok, don't worry, it's all cancelled. You're good." But at least to know that at some point in the future my credit history will be wiped clean... that's forgiveness of my debt right there. That's the credit bureau saying "You get to start over now. Congratulations."

What an amazing thing is that? To think that forgiveness exists within "the system." And I believe that's because God's love has come into this world, whether people are aware of it or not, because His people cry out "Lord forgive us our debt." God doesn't cancel our debt, he never cancels it--Jesus died on the cross to forgive us our debt, not make it go away. We are still guilty of our sins. It is only through Christ's death on the cross that our negative balance can be brought back to "zero."

I still have things to learn about handling money. I think many of us do. I believe that more people are in debt than really realize it. But I also believe that if we pray "Lord forgive us our debt," and then ask Him to help us make better budgets, look to where we can cut corners, and even find ways to generate additional income, He will forgive us our debts. We must still pay them back, but we will be forgiven for the error of spending more than we made. And we can use that as a glimpse into the debt that Jesus paid for us. If having someone offer you the money to get out of debt would make you the happiest person ever, imagine how we'll feel when we get to Heaven and realize how deep our earthly debt is, and how we could never ever pay it off--without Christ, who gave His life so that we would have our debt forgiven.

Lord, forgive me my debt, for I have sinned. I have spent more than I earned, and I have closed my eyes to my responsibilities. Help me to make the proper decisions about money, to face my debt head-on, and do whatever it takes to pay it down. I thank you that even through this worldly system there exists a concept of debt forgiveness, which is just a small, tiny glimpse into the price that Jesus paid for us, so that our spiritual debts may be forgiven. Amen.

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