The very word can make the stomach churn. It can bind the mind like tight bands of steel. It can poison happy days with dread and fear.
The telephone rings. Is it a creditor? The doorbell rings and your heart skips a beat. Is it the collection agency? The mail arrives and you suddenly feel sick. What’s in that letter from the credit card company?
Debt can ruin someone’s life. It can even ruin hope of eventual release through death.
In 1946 American country singer Merle Travis recorded these lyrics:
“You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
“Another day older and deeper in debt.
“Saint Peter, don’t you call me, ’cause I can’t go;
“I owe my soul to the company store.”
In addition to personal debt, there’s the matter of national debt. Every American should visit www.usdebtclock.org sometime. A warning — your visit won’t be much fun. You should do it anyway.
Our nation is now more than $12 trillion in debt. If every single United States citizen were to write the nation a check for $40,000, we’d still be in debt. That’s how bad it is. In the brief time it has taken you to read to this point in this column, America has fallen another $2 million into debt.
Watching the national debt clock makes me think of a giant Burmese python coiling itself around our country. Apart from major change, we’re already as good as dead.
National debt and personal debt are terrible realities. But as bad as they are, they both pale in comparison to a third kind of debt that faces every person alive worldwide: spiritual debt.
The Bible says there is a God and that He is holy. Which means that every time we humans sin, our moral deficit grows and our spiritual indebtedness increases.
Of course, sin involves far more than robbing banks or cheating on your spouse. It goes beyond cursing the guy who cuts you off in traffic or fudging on your tax return. Sometimes sin consists of what you aren’t doing that you should be doing. There are sins of omission, sins of commission and even sins of disposition.
Did you know that a bitter, critical attitude can be sinful? Worrying can be sinful. It means that you’re not trusting God. And what about the idols in your life? What gets the best of your money and time?
A lady once told me that she had never sinned. I replied, “Well, now you have.” She said, “How so?”
I said, “Well, the Bible says that everyone has sinned (Romans 3:23). You just said that you’ve never sinned. That’s a lie, and lying is a sin.”
Remember also that sinful behavior is actually symptomatic. Sin is most basically a condition of the heart. We are all sinful by nature. In Psalm 51:5, David wrote, “[I]n sin my mother conceived me.”
The human propensity to sin was powerfully portrayed by one old man who prayed, “Dear God, so far today I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped. I haven’t lost my temper. I haven’t been grumpy, nasty, or selfish. But in a few minutes, God, I’m going to be getting out of bed, and then I’m going to need Your help.”
God’s help notwithstanding, we all sin. “If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense.” (1 John 1:8, The Message)
So how much of a favor are you asking when you pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”? How deep in debt are you, spiritually speaking? How often do you sin in a week?
In 1776, famous hymn writer Augustus Toplady tried to demonstrate that a man was as helpless to pay off his debt of sin as was England to liquidate its great national indebtedness. At the rate of one sin per second, Toplady calculated that a man would tally approximately 1,576,800,000 transgressions over a period of 50 years. How depressing.
But then Toplady proceeded to share with his readers the same good news that I want to share with you. If we will confess our sins, God will forgive us our sins. All of them. Our spiritual debt can be canceled. All of it.
How can God do this? Because His grace is very amazing, and because the debt of all who believe was fully paid 2,000 years ago by Jesus Christ on a cross just outside of Jerusalem.
“With [God] there is forgiveness, so that [He] may be revered.” Psalm 130:4, (Holman Christian Standard Bible).
The Rev. Daryl E. Witmer is founder and director of the AIIA Institute, a national apologetics ministry and pastor emeritus at the Monson Community Church. He may be reached on the Web at AIIAInstitute.org or by e-mail at AIIAInstitute@aol.com. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.