We all owe somebody something.
It could be the food on your table. It could be the loan of money you received. It could be the upbringing you had. It could be time someone gave you in order to listen to your problems. It could be a Mars bar. It could be a cup of tea.
We all owe a debt to someone, however big or small.
But what happens when you owe ¢300bn?
When it comes to Greece, my guess is you will either fall on one of two sides.
Side 1 – ‘Greece received money that they should have to repay. You can’t just take something, and not expect to have to pay it back. It’s a consequence of their decisions.’
Or side 2 – ‘Greece can’t possibly repay all that they owe. The debt needs to be wiped out. Since they don’t have any prospect of being able to pay it back, why should they be forced to?’
And what about issues closer to home? Ireland owes tens of billions itself, and one of the ways we’re paying back that debt is by paying for our water through Irish Water. Few issues have caused as much anger and hostility in recent years.
Japan owes ¢8 trillion to its creditors.
Many other Asian nations, as well as African nations, still owe billions despite complex debt forgiveness plans, as well as billions of euro in aid being handed over to them annually.
According to bonkers.ie, the people of Ireland have a cumulative credit card bill of over ¢3.1bn – nothing when you compare it to what is owed to the Ireland’s creditors, but still, a hefty amount.
So, what do you do about debt?
I might frustrate you at this point by telling you that I’m not going to give you the ‘right answer’. As with most of the questions that face us in this life, the answer is not black and white, but instead, a shade of beautiful grey.
What I will say though, is that it is vital when we think about the issue of debt, that we go back to what we know about God.
He is the ruler of Heaven and Earth. Everything is under His power and His control. All money, all possessions, all life is in the palm of His hands. There is nothing that any person or nation owns that is not first owned by God.
Debt is not something that God is afraid of. In fact, debt is a major theme in the story of God. God made the world and everything in it. It is His. He made us. We are His. We owe him everything before we even get started on anything else.
And then there’s Jesus – the man who was God, who came into the world to forgive the debts of the world. The man who, despite all that mankind had done to rebel against God, came to make sure that the slate could be ultimately wiped clean.
Does this mean God is a socialist? Does this mean that Jesus is Paul Murphy in disguise?
The debt to God still had to be paid. Justice still had to be served. ‘The ransom for sin is death’ – that was still true. It’s just that Jesus is the one that died in order that the debt be paid. The debt was paid, though. It wasn’t forgiven without a price. That’s the difference.
Does this mean that the poor must be downtrodden? Does this mean they must be saddled with debts that they can never pay? No, of course not. There is an obligation, as instructed and demonstrated by Jesus, to be at the sharp end of social action, to feed the poor, to clothe the naked, to heal the sick and to stand with the marginalised.
Should Greece and Ireland be forgiven of all their debts? Maybe. Maybe not.
Should Third World nations be allowed to start again from scratch? Maybe. Maybe not.
I fully believe there is a reason for the way Jesus went about things while he was here on Earth. There’s a reason he wasn’t a politician. There’s a reason he concentrated on social action, on loving others, and on showing them what they meant to His Father.
There’s a reason why the one time we see Him fully immersed in the political system is when He Himself is the subject of the debate over whether He should be killed on a cross.
I try not to concern myself too much with who owes what.
I think it’s probably more important that we try to concern ourselves, simply, with the One who forgives our debts.