The Nature of Debt

the-nature-of-debt“Give a man everything he wants and at that moment, everything will not be everything.”  – Immanuel Kant

Christians often ask the question, “Is it wrong (e.g., is it a sin) to go into debt?”  But this is the wrong question to ask because it does not get at the cause of debt.  Self-inflicted debt is a symptom of the disease, not the cause. 

Our indebtedness has both cultural and personal roots.  Unless we have traveled the world extensively, we probably have no clue just how well off we are in North America.  While some of us struggle with what we see as serious financial challenges, few of us can relate with much of the world’s peoples as they rummage desperately for their next meal and a shelter for the night.

The point here is not to make us feel guilty for that which God has richly blessed us, but to acknowledge his provision with gratefulness and adopt a more realistic perspective about true needs.  Richard Foster pleads with us:

“We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic.  It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality.  We crave things we neither need nor enjoy.  We are made to feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they are worn out.  The mass media have convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality.  It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick.

This psychosis permeates even our mythology.  The modern hero is the poor boy who purposefully becomes rich rather than the rich boy who voluntarily becomes poor.  Covetousness we call ambition.  Hoarding we call prudence.  Greed we call industry.” (Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline. San Francisco:  HarperCollins Publishers, 1998, pp. 80-81.)

Self-inflicted debt is merely a symptom of the disease worldliness.  Worldliness is a term that runs so counter to our culture that it usually conjures up images for us of nerdish naivety, or monk-like asceticism. Truthfully, the concept of worldliness is counter-cultural!  That’s Paul’s point in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Some worldly mindsets that lead to self-inflicted debt include:  malcontent, complaining, ungratefulness, greed, envy, covetousness, desire for and a preoccupation with things or self-gratification, insecurity and anxiety. 

Watch out!  Our culture, through the media and advertising, has deceived us into subtle patterns of rationalization that mask these worldly mindsets.  We bury ourselves under immense debt under the guise of buying a safer vehicle, or moving up into a bigger, better house, or securing the best education, or simplifying our lives with the latest gadgets.  But in the end, we find ourselves living to service debt. 

“A man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.”  – 2 Peter 2:19

© 2005 Rob Fischer