Throughout this fall I have been able to spend some time teaching my church about money. One of the first challenges I faced was in distinguishing between what the Bible teaches about money and what we, as Christians living in this time and this place, tend to believe. What I found is that there are many ways that we think about money that owes more to the world than to the Bible. Let me share 4 of them.
We live in a debt-based economy. A strange fact about this economy is that it begins to fall apart when people stop living in debt or when people are no longer allowed to borrow. We’ve seen this all across the world today, from the U.S. to Europe and beyond. Many countries are heavily in debt and governments have to borrow money from other countries in order to stay afloat. The scary thing is that many countries now borrow money not to fund projects or services, but to pay the interest on their existing debt; they are borrowing money to pay the interest on money they’ve already borrowed. It goes without saying that this cannot continue indefinitely.
It’s not just nations that fall into that trap, though. Many consumers—people like you and me—have borrowed far beyond our means. Many of us have borrowed so much money that we have very little hope of ever paying it back. The recent and ongoing economic downturn was triggered at least in part by debt. Many people bought homes that they could not afford and they did it by borrowing money. When the interest rates went up, which means their cost of borrowing got higher, they couldn’t afford those houses anymore. Because they couldn’t afford their homes, they stopped paying their mortgages and that led to a collapse of the banking system and the economy with it. Ironically, it was only borrowed government money that kept the problem from being far worse (another debt that will be called in at some point).
These are just 2 broad examples of debt in society—borrowing that leads to negative consequences. Lest we become proud, we must admit that almost all of us have at least one credit card and more than half of us have more than one. Some of us use credit responsibly but many of us have accumulated a lot of debt by spending more than we should have. Every store we go to is very eager to extend credit to us—to allow us to borrow money from them. The credit card companies are always trying to hook young people when they are in high school or college. Everywhere we go we are offered stuff for borrowed money. Too often we take the deal. We somehow keep believing that we’ll have money tomorrow to pay for the stuff we can’t really afford today.