CHRISTIANS IN DEBT
Recently I ran into a friend whom I had not met in some years. It turned out that, like many who have been affected by the economic downturn, he too has been hit and has been out of a job for a year or more now. Having exhausted all his savings, he was in a situation where his children's school was telling him that they would drop their names from the school register, if he did not pay up their fees on which he had been defaulting for some months. After exploring all possible alternatives, he approached a kabuliwallah, the dreaded traditional money lender of Afghan origins, immortalised in Tagore's short story of the same name and its subsequent movie version. The kabuliwallah lent him money at the horrific interest rate of 80% per month; fully aware that his client was unemployed and possibly unable to return his money immediately, added a stipulation that if my friend failed to pay the interest at least, he would further pay a penalty of 60% per month on the interest. This left the family, already in considerable difficulty, in dire financial straits. Of course, the situation of my friend was not of his own making; he was not spending or living ostentatiously; he was simply unemployed for so long that his savings ran out, pushing him into a corner.
The Spiritual Issue
Around me I do see people who seem to have no control over their spending, live beyond their means and eventually get into a debt trap. So then, is money a spiritual issue? I think that money is a spiritual issue, because our attitude about money can affect our relationship with God. We can't just put it aside and say, "Oh, we can do whatever we want with money because it doesn't connect with the spiritual life." It does.
In the Book of Proverbs, it says, "He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich" (21:17). Now this is not a passage that talks about drunkenness and all. That is wrong too, but that is not the focus of the passage here. This passage talks about being too interested in pursuing a life-style of pleasure, good food, good wine, good circumstances, comfort, and exciting experiences. Anybody who dedicates their lives in that direction is going to inevitably run into financial problems. There is an over-indulgence that we can have in life, and so the problem here is over-indulgence and the solution is to simplify our lives. We live in a society that is based on over-indulgence and over-consumption. That is what our whole economy is based on. 20 minutes of every hour we watch on television is advertisements. Every magazine we open, half the pages are advertisements. We are constantly being bombarded with signals to buy. As we leave any building that we are a part of, as we hit the streets, we are bombarded with advertisements. When we watch movies, the products that the people use in the movie are placed there by advertisement; the computers, the cars, the soft drinks are all advertisements. They want us to see their product in use and they pay for that privilege. We are surrounded.
Over-consumption is not a matter of how much a thing costs; it is a matter of whether we really need it or not. So we need to simplify our lives a bit; we need to slow down on replacing things that really do not need to be replaced yet. We need to buy what we need and not just what we want; we need to discern the difference between quality and just showing off. You know, there is a lot of ego spending in the world and none of it will ever be a Christian character witness. We need to be discerning on how we spend our money. There are different choices that face us, but we need to face those choices.
Part of what God wants for us in all of life is freedom and that is also true in our financial life. God wants us to be free to spend our money on real needs. He wants us to be free to have money to prepare for the future. He wants us to be free from abnormal pressures and worries about money. And He wants us to be free to help other people, but to be free; we have to attack our debts. We need to attack them. We need to view them as enemies and get rid of them as fast as we can.
The New Testament also tells us that we are not supposed to put our hope in wealth. The word 'hope' here means the assurance that what is promised will actually be delivered. It tells us not to have that attitude towards money that we really believe what it promises it will actually deliver because it does not. If we put our hope in money, it means that we believe our future happiness depends on having more money. If we put our trust in money, it means that we believe that more money will make us happier, that it will protect us from harm, that money will introduce us to the right people, and that money will fulfil our heart's desire. We are not talking about what we say; we are talking about what we actually do. How do we actually use our money? Sometimes we act as if God really will not provide for us.
There is an incredible amount of joy and satisfaction that comes as we free our lives, particularly in this area of finances. We first need to do some commonsense things that successful people have done. We need to set up a budget. We need to simplify our lives. We need to cut down on our debts. But as Christians, there is a deeper more fundamental issue. We need to trust God who has created us. God has created all the things we see around us; the abundance of things that we enjoy. He created us to have appetites and He knows what it is to have the pleasure of meeting the needs of those appetites. He knows our need for security. God knows all these things and on top of that, He loves us enough that He sent Jesus Christ to take our place, to die in our place; our selfishness and the way we have hurt ourselves, other people and God is so serious that that would eliminate the possibility of having a relationship with Him. He took that so seriously that Jesus took that burden on Himself and has become God's solution so that despite the problems that we have had, despite the sin in our lives, we can have a relationship with Him. He loves us that much and it is this God who says that He will be our provider.