I’m sure all of us are more than ready for the COVID-19 pandemic to be over and for life to go back to “normal.” Hopefully the vaccines will drastically reduce the number of cases but, at least for the foreseeable future, masks and social distancing will be part of our lives.
I want to talk about another, more subtle virus that’s ravaging the population and wreaking havoc in people’s lives: debt.
It may or may not directly impact your physical health, but the stress debt brings can certainly impact your emotional, mental and spiritual health, as well as your overall quality of life. And it can devastate your financial health.
We all understand the importance of being in good shape physically, even spiritually and emotionally, but when was the last time you seriously thought about your financial health? Most of us aren’t giving that the attention it deserves.
When assessing your financial health, you must evaluate your debt and its effect on your overall condition. Let me share some quotes about debt from a few wise people including (according to the Bible) the wisest man who ever lived, a modern prophet, the writer of our constitution and others.
“Be determined to never incur another debt. Deny yourself a thousand things rather than run in debt…. Avoid it as you would the smallpox.” — Ellen White
“The borrower is servant to the lender.” — King Solomon in Proverbs 22:7
Wars in old times were made to get slaves. The modern implement of imposing slavery is debt.” — Ezra Pound
“A man in debt is so far a slave.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Debt is the worst poverty.” — Thomas Fuller
“It is the debtor that is ruined by hard times.” — President Rutherford B. Hayes
“Never spend your money before you have it.” — President Thomas Jefferson
For most of earth’s history, debt has been seen as something to avoid. But for most people today, it’s a normal part of life, like eating, sleeping, or going to work.
How did we get here?
There are many things that have contributed to our current debt crisis, but I’ll just highlight two significant ones.
A Societal Shift Toward Borrowing
According to Charles E. Person, an early 20th century economist, mortgage debt increased 800 percent from 1920 to 1929 and was responsible, in part, for the Great Depression. “The existing depression,” he said, “was due essentially to the great wave of credit expansion in the past decade” (The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Nov. 1930, p. 94-130). He went on to note that before the mid-1920s buying on credit was not only not considered normal, but most saw it as sinful.
The Ease of Borrowing
The average credit card balance in 1980 was $670. By 2019 it had risen to $6,094—an increase of 906 percent! Median household income, on the other hand, only increased by about 300 percent during that time. That means our credit card debt has increased three times faster than our income! And now, with online shopping, you don’t even have to leave your house to swipe that card.
Where do we go from here?
Society seems to have accepted debt as the answer to attaining things that we want or would otherwise seem unattainable. But what about us, church? Are we accepting it just as readily? Do we need to change our attitude toward debt?
In my house we have a term called “AA time” (attitude adjustment time). If a member of the family (Beth and I included) is irritable and grumpy, we need to go to our room for “AA time.” There are likely many of us who would benefit from an attitude adjustment toward debt. If we would start seeing debt like smallpox, as Ellen White describes it, then we would steer clear of it. If we allow ourselves to see it as the form of slavery it is, like the Bible describes it, we should want to avoid debt at all costs. After all, who wants to be a slave?
Social distancing and masks are normal today because they are some of the best ways we have to reign in the pandemic. What would it take to reign in our debt?
There are many great resources that can help us takes the steps to be free from debt, like those offered by Dave Ramsey and Crown Financial Ministry. The first step, however, is to decide what our attitude toward debt will be. Inspired writings and wise people tell us to have an attitude that sees debt as more enemy than friend. This attitude could lead you to a life with no credit cards, car payments, or even a mortgage payment. Sound like freedom? You can get there with God’s help and the right attitude. If you need “AA time” toward debt, just go to your prayer closet and regularly ask God to change your attitude about debt to match His. This could give you financial peace and a greater ability to impact your world for God.