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United we spend

Americans don’t seem at all divided when it comes to debt

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I finally found some “common ground.” Not quite what I was looking for, but as best I can tell, it’s an issue where Republicans and Democrats seem to have virtual agreement.

They’ll do that by simply remaining silent.

The topic is debt retirement. I may repeat myself—but it’s important to our families and businesses; our churches and schools; our city, state, and national economies; and to the world.

It’s a current issue because here in the United States we’ve just taken on some $3 trillion in brand-new debt. That’s $13,000 in new debt for every man, woman, and child—which has now been added to the $100,000 already owed by every individual coming into this most bizarre era.

We Christians are, in this regard, virtually indistinguishable from the society we live in.

How do we handle this? By staying silent on the subject—like our political “leaders”?

The sober fact is that we as a nation approach this tough fiscal assignment with a credit-card mentality. No need, we say, to tighten our belts and trim our budgets. We’ll just borrow our way out; that’s what we’ve always done.

Well, maybe for the last generation or so. We are a people unable to defer the gratification of our desires. By and large, we live in homes that are nicer than what our parents had at the same age. The same is true for cars, clothes, use of leisure time, travel and vacations, and everything that drives our family budgets up, up, and up.

We Christians are, in this regard, virtually indistinguishable from the society we live in. And by blending in with our surroundings, we are missing a strategic opportunity for witness to a key element of the gospel.

Make no mistake here. This is not another call to simple living. The guilt I suggest we ought to feel has less to do with enjoying the good things God has made than it does with the timing in which we are privileged to enjoy them. Like the world around us, we Christians tend to assume early enjoyment is our prerogative.

But Christians, of all people, should understand that the Mastercard mentality is not the way to master life. The pattern Jesus established was one of deferring desires—not because the fulfillment of desire is wrong, but because “my time has not yet come.” Most of us think our time has come five minutes after the desire first pops into our minds.

Yet few concepts are more central to a Christian way of thinking than the ideal of deferring a present desire—in the confidence that something richer lies down the road. It is a constant and unrelenting theme of Scripture.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,” Jesus said, “it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Deferral now, rich reward later. He understood the concept perfectly, and His obedience to the death of the cross is, of course, the key to His and our future glory.

The theme permeates our lives. Train now, win the game later. Pull the weeds now, enjoy the sweet corn later. Skip the dessert now, enjoy a trim waistline later.

The principle is everywhere except in our consumer consciousness. There, the infection still rages. And for such an infection to rage within the Christian community is costly in two ways.

First, it is costly in terms of wasted resources. In following the world’s pattern of satisfying so many of our desires almost as soon as we feel them, we are spending far more than we should on interest, carrying charges, and fees. We would literally have 50 percent more to spend on what we want—maybe even more—if we were patient to wait until the resources were in. Think what impact that might have on the underfinanced ministries of God’s kingdom.

Second, it is costly in terms of a wasted witness. If Christians were known around the world as people who through their patience, thrift, and keen sense of priorities lived prosperous lives, the gospel they preach and teach would have more credibility than it does now when so many of us spend most of our years playing catch-up with the finance companies.

As it stands, our political leaders—from both parties—have nothing but silence when it’s suggested that such basic principles of finance be applied to the nation’s astonishing debt. And their silence is becoming more and more deafening.

Joel Belz

Joel Belz (1941–2024) was WORLD’s founder and a regular contributor of commentary for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Radio. He served as editor, publisher, and CEO for more than three decades at WORLD and was the author of Consider These Things. Visit WORLD’s memorial tribute page.


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