The world heaved a collective sigh of relief when the American politicians eventually agreed at the eleventh hour on measures that allowed the US Government to re-open and for the American debt ceiling to be raised. The dire warnings of the financial Armageddon and global fallout that would ensue had this not happened had the entire world on tenterhooks.
That the immediate crisis has been relieved is, however, only a temporary postponement of the seemingly intractable dilemma facing the USA and the wider world. The official level of American debt is apparently currently running at over $16.7 trillion. Not being an economist, my Pooh Bear brain cannot begin to grasp the enormity of such a debt, or how much longer economic stability can be sustained in the face of a figure that is ever-spiralling out of control. Surely the world financial system of banks and stock markets must sooner or later come crashing down like a pack of cards? Ever mounting debt is a recipe for disaster, whether individually or globally.
I was reminded of the parable Jesus told of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18 where the debtor owed ten thousand talents. A talent was a valuable piece of money, worth 6,000 pennies, or small silver coins. And I'm told that just one of those small silver coins was an average day's wage. So one talent was worth 6,000 days' wages. But this servant owed that amount multiplied by ten thousand, making 60 million days' wages. Now my maths is not the most brilliant in the world, but I worked out that to earn that much money to pay off the debt, this servant would have to work more than 164,000 years without a day off or a holiday – and that would only pay off the principal debt. It doesn't even take into account the interest he would have to pay on the debt. So in fact, the longer he would work to decrease the debt, the more it would increase instead. It sounds strikingly similar to the situation with the US and UK national debt!
Given that the Bible likens sin to a debt (many versions translate the Lord's Prayer using the line "Forgive us our debts…"), I was prompted to think about whether God has a "debt ceiling", such as we have heard of constantly in the recent American crisis. And it occurred to me that Judgement Day is, in fact, the day when, in simple terms, God's debt ceiling is breached, and He calls the world to account. The debt is on a scale that can never be repaid, and the penalty is unimaginably terrifying.
Sadly, however, this is a debt ceiling that causes virtually no concern to the world, despite it being of a much more serious nature than the impending financial catastrophes that the world appears to be facing. Even among those who believe in God's existence, the belief that there will one day be a Day of Judgement when God calls in the debts, so to speak, is close to non-existent. And yet a wonderful solution is available – provided by a loving God Himself – to have the debt written off, by acceptance of Christ's amazing rescue plan, achieved through his death and resurrection.
But in similar fashion to the American crisis, we delay, we procrastinate, we try to ignore the reality of the situation. We bury our heads in the sand, hoping that "everything will work out in the end". Like the servant in Jesus' parable, who said, "Be patient with me, and I will pay back everything", we naively believe that we can solve the problem ourselves.
The unfortunate recipients of the scandalously exploitative payday loan industry in this country are made only too aware that such naivety brings disaster. It's time we woke up to the realisation that our spiritual debt can similarly not be ignored, and that, thankfully, in Christ, there is a debt solution that is free and accessible to all through repentance and faith. The mighty American dollar has on its banknotes the words "In God we trust". Only when those words become true will that great nation's financial peril be alleviated, but let's ensure that those words accurately describe our own lives, and that our own enormous spiritual debt has been graciously wiped out.
Tony Ward is a Bible teacher and evangelist who was ordained in Zimbabwe. He ministers mainly in Cardiff and Bristol.