A Debt We Couldn’t Pay Ourselves
Suppose I sell you a piece of commercial property on which I am already behind in my mortgage payments. You not only pay me a fair price for the property but also pay my overdue payments. Now the property belongs totally to you. I no longer have a say in how the property is used. This is essentially what Christ has done. By His death on the cross He paid our debt to God, a debt we could not possibly pay ourselves.
The Debt Must Be Paid
Mercy goes beyond justice, it does not undercut it. If I forgive you the hundred dollar debt you owe me, that means I must use one hundred dollars of my own money to pay my creditors. I cannot really make you a hundred dollars richer without making myself hundred dollars poorer. If the debt is objectively real, it must be paid, and if it is my mercy that repays your debt, I must pay it. That is the reason why Christ had to die, why God could not simply say ‘forget it’. Instead he said ‘forgive it’ and meant that if we did not pay it, he had himself.
Just Charge It!
I recently attended an event sponsored by Compassion International, the International Child Sponsorship Organization. The event was called “Stepping into My Shoes”. The purpose being to show children in America what it is like living in a third-world country. At one point, children are encouraged to “work”, breaking rocks and shining shoes. For their efforts, each received their compensation: ten cents. They then went to a “shop,” where they could exchange their newly acquired wealth for items. Unfortunately, their 10 cents didn’t get them very far: a soccer ball was 30 dollars and a toy plane was 20 dollars. One rather distraught young girl wanted to purchase a Barbie doll, but she was $79.90 short of the total price of $80. The daughter, exasperated, finally said, “Why don’t you just charge it on your card mommy?”
Stuart Strachan Jr.
Lending to the Lender
While most of us probably avoid borrowing money, there are cases in which people actually enjoy borrowing from other people. For instance, the Austrian poet Peter Altenberg loved to borrow money from other people, even while maintaining a healthy bank account. A friend of his, the poet and critic Karl Kraus tells a story of how Altenberg pleaded over and over again to borrow a hundred kronen, and, on account of his low balance himself, had to turn him down each time. At one point, Kraus got so frustrated with Altenberg that he shouted, “Look, Peter, I’d gladly give it to you, but I really, really, don’t have the money.” “Very Well”, Altenberg responded, I’ll lend it to you.”
Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material provided by Clifton Fadiman, Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes.
Poverty and Indedbtedness: Ibu Emptat’s Story
Consider the following summary of an interview conducted by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, two of the world’s leading researchers on poverty:
In a village in Indonesia we met Ibu Emptat, the wife of a basket weaver. A few years before our first meeting (in summer 2008), her husband was having trouble with his vision and could no longer work. She had no choice but to borrow money from the local moneylender — 100,000 rupiah [$18.75 US] to pay for medicine so her husband could work again, and 300,000 rupiah [$56 US] for food for the period when her husband was recovering and could not work (three of her seven children were still living with them). They had to pay 10 percent per month in interest on the loan.
However, they fell behind on their interest payments and by the time we met, her debt had ballooned to 1 million rupiah [$187 US]; the moneylender was threatening to take everything they had. To make matters worse, one of her younger sons had recently been diagnosed with severe asthma. Because the family was already mired in debt, she couldn’t afford the medicine needed to treat his condition. He sat with us throughout our visit, coughing every few minutes; he was no longer able to attend school regularly. The family seemed to be caught in a classic poverty trap — the father’s illness made them poor, which is why the child stayed sick, and because he was too sick to get a proper education, poverty loomed in his future.
The family is trapped: Sickness causes poverty, which causes sickness, which causes poverty, which causes a loss of property to the moneylender, which causes more poverty, which causes sickness, which causes . . . Note that there is no single solution to the entrapment.
Health insurance could have helped to cushion the blow of the father’s illness, but such insurance is often unavailable in poor countries; and even if it existed, it is unlikely that the family could have afforded it anyway. Moreover, even if they had insurance, there is the additional problem of inadequate healthcare services to provide the necessary medical care. The problems are multifaceted, and the solutions must be as well.
Caesar Augustus, the first Roman emperor, had quite the sharp wit. After hearing about a Roman nobleman who had passed away with enormous debts (which were kept private throughout his lifetime), he sent one of his emissaries to the auction to bid on a single item. Augustus told him to bid on the man’s pillow. His reason: “That pillow must be particularly conducive to sleep, if its late owner, in spite of all his debts, could sleep on it.”
Stuart Strachan Jr.