The Dangers of Debt

30 May

Last week, we talked about the purpose of the tithe both in the New Testament and in the modern church, but good stewardship isn’t just about dumping a few dollars into an offering plate as a token gesture. It’s about handling the entirety of God’s gift to us well – our whole paycheck, not just 10%. If we’re to manage God’s gift to us well, we need to start by choosing not to throw bits of it needlessly away. And in few places are paychecks as quickly wasted as in the payment of debt.

My first and last encounter with this particular form of monetary carelessness came during my transition from Jr. High to High School. I had developed an avid interest in astronomy and the local Sam’s Club was carrying a beautiful Bushnell, 4.5” reflecting telescope. At nearly 3’ in length, it was a monster and I couldn’t prevent myself from drooling over it.

Up until this point, I had been making due with a pair of 10×50 binoculars. They were strong enough to show the phases of Venus, the thin rings of Saturn, and Jupiter’s moons. I could make out binary star systems easily enough or see the vague, gaseous outline of the Orion Nebula, but I longed for so much more. What I really wanted (and wanted now) were the views I got through the telescopes of my big-league astronomy club buddies. I wanted to hold the heavens in the palm of my hand and I knew that this telescope would allow me to do just that.

Seeing the magnitude of my desire, my parents offered me a deal. They would buy me the telescope. It would be both my birthday present and my Christmas present and I would be obligated to repay half of it. I quickly determined that $250 dollars was not an insurmountable debt (at least not in comparison to the treasures it would unlock) and agreed to the arrangement.

Of course, in my eagerness to possess this wondrous new toy, I hadn’t really taken the time to consider just how long it would take me to pay it off… or to create a plan for doing so. Looking back, it should have been obvious that on an income of $2-$5 a week, freedom was not going to come any time soon.

At this point, it’s important to note that this lack of planning was not due to any failure on my parents’ part. They had taken the time to teach me about money and, in reality, I should have known better than to blindly indulge the seemingly irrepressible desire to own a telescope.

Over the next few years, I spent my time struggling with a stomach-turning sickness whose onset always seemed to coincide with my use of the instrument. My payments had not been regular (there were other things I also “needed” to own) and, though my parents were not charging interest, they weren’t making any indications that their loan was about to be forgiven. Tired of dealing with the sense of captivity which accompanied my debt, I set up a plan to pay off the telescope. In a matter of months I was free and made a vow that I would never go into debt again.

While I’d like to say that I was a great innovator, my debt-free philosophy was hardly something new. In fact, the writers of the Bible had quite a bit to say about the dangers of owing money. We’ll take a look at their words of wisdom next week, but for now, feel free to share your own journey into or out of debt in the comment box below!

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6 Responses to “The Dangers of Debt”

  1. Carmen May 30, 2014 at 07:03 #

    Sometimes we can not afford not to be indebted. ie a few months ago I needed 3 new car tyres- no money my work for the Lord demanded my car to work. So after much prayer in this delima i used my Sears card to get the tyres and balancing etc. With no interest for 1 yr I now have a bill of $600. Which I do pay above the minimum- I do not beat up myself I just made plans of the monthly payments and God is supplying it.

    • acgheen May 30, 2014 at 08:24 #

      I agree that sometimes debt can’t be avoided. It’s important to recognize that Scripture never refers to indebtedness as sin. Still, like fire, it needs to be handled with a healthy respect for its power to destroy when misused or handled carelessly.

  2. caesarbc May 30, 2014 at 08:06 #

    I would not consider tithing as “throwing it needlessly away.” It helps support and sustain the church, which is the last best place to turn for help when in need. There are many positive social phenomena that occur as a result of participating in a group of perpetually recurring positive virtues. Pierre Bourdieu would call it accruing social and symbolic capital in the gift exchange. Indeed, I am Christian simply because I place helping others above all else.

    • acgheen May 30, 2014 at 08:15 #

      I would concur that tithing is not a needless discarding of God’s gift to us. The reference, in context, was to needlessly throwing away money on interest payments. If all we have comes from God, it is our duty to handle all of it well.

      • caesarbc May 30, 2014 at 08:52 #

        The real blessing is to teach others as much as possible how to budget, live within their means, and pay it forward.

      • acgheen May 30, 2014 at 08:53 #

        I agree!

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