The National Debt May 16 2016

I recently came across what may be the most comprehensive debt clock on the planet.  It has not only the U.S. national debt clock, but a world debt clock, and even individual state debt clocks.  Check out usdebtclock.org.

The numbers are fascinating and are being updated continuously.  However, debt clocks can be very discouraging, because they just serve as reminders of how seriously in arrears we are as a country, as states, and even as individuals, on average.  For example:

  •  The U.S. national debt (what the U.S. government owes) stands at about $19,263,000,000,000 (it’s easier to say $19 trillion, but including all the zeros has more of an impact).
  •  As near as I can tell from the clock (the numbers are changing too fast), the debt is increasing by about $20,000 per second.
  •  The national debt per person is closing in on $60,000, or $240,000 for a family of four.
  •  Total credit card debt in the U.S. is now almost $1 trillion, increasing by about $5000 per second.
  •  Scarier yet is that the U.S. now has $102 trillion in unfunded liabilities, which will show up as additional national debt whenever that spending occurs, where not matched by revenues.

These numbers are so staggering, that our eyes glaze over and we just go on to things that are more pleasant to hear.  Politicians know they should deal with it, and a few of them try to, but dealing with it is hard and requires them to do and say things that their constituents don’t want to hear.

I had a boss who used to say “You can’t wish your problems into a cornfield.  You have to deal with them.”  As a country, we are probably wishing our national debt into a cornfield, if not the ocean.  The word “intractable” comes to mind.  But this blog is about biblical principles, not politics, so what’s the point?

The Bible talks about debt, including monetary debt.  In fact, Jesus used the idea of monetary debt to make a powerful point about forgiveness.  In Matthew 18:21-35 he describes a slave who owed his master 10,000 talents.  According to some estimates, a talent was equivalent to about 20 years of wages; it was a lot of money.  This would translate to about $6 billion today for a typical worker, obviously far more than a person could be expected to pay.

After begging to be relieved of the debt, the slave was forgiven by the master, but he then turned around and ruthlessly demanded one of his fellow slaves pay him back for a debt that was dramatically smaller (only 100 days of wages).  Jesus’ point was that it makes no sense to withhold forgiveness of our brother in light of the massive forgiveness we have received from God.  

The Apostle Paul also wrote about debt in Colossians 2:13-14:

“When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us, and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”  

Having nailed the certificate of debt to the cross is a graphic picture of the forgiveness of our sins, which were in some ways more massive than the national debt, because they had to do with eternity.  Unlike the unforgiving slave, however, we should be overflowing with gratitude for what God did and also be ready to forgive others.

So every time you’re tempted not to forgive, think of the national debt clock. Our sin was an intractable problem – for us, but not for God.  The unforgiving slave was not exactly the example of selflessness.  But God’s “debt relief program” should be a motivation for us to exhibit a lifestyle of forgiveness, patience, love, and compassion toward others.  Although we may hope that our leaders buckle down and deal with the national debt, my guess is that by the time all of us pass from this earth, the national debt will be even larger than it is today.  But praise the Lord that our personal certificate of debt, which was itself massive, has been zeroed out, having been nailed to the cross!  

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Steve Smith