Greed and Debt: the American Way

Proverbs 22:7 (NIV) – 7 The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.

Something has been bothering me for decades. Something that I think is at the very heart of our problems. But as serious as this problem is, no one is really talking about it. And this is very surprising to me because the Bible says a lot about this subject: “greed”. You read that right. We have a serious “greed” problem in America. Read all the way to the end because I’m pretty sure this post is going to have an unexpected twist for most. In fact, I’m going to argue that our “greed” problem has gotten so bad that our entire financial system is literally rotting from the inside out all the way to the point that the U.S. dollar itself is beginning to crumble.

To really understand this problem we have to back up and get some perspective. We have created a culture of excess that uses debt to live far above one’s means by borrowing against future profits. In some cases this kind of debt is “constructive”, meaning the value it provides is actually greater than its long term cost. In this case, debt can be a good thing. So don’t mistake me for advocating for an extreme anti-debt viewpoint. But in most cases, much of the debt Americans take out is consumer-debt ($4, 370,000,000,000 out of $14,600,000,000,000 total debt). Almost 30% of American household debt is the most destructive kind of debt: “consumer debt”. And if you read some of the above linked articles, you’ll see that after saving more money than had been seen in American savings for quite some time during the pandemic, American households have hit new records in debt as the lockdowns lifted and people went out enforce to spend, spend, spend!

Spend (waste?) any time listening to political rhetoric in America today and you’ll hear narratives villainizing “the rich”, but, perhaps not surprisingly, no one seems to want to take any responsibility for themselves. When people take out consumer debt to lives lifestyles they cannot afford, their debt enriches others at the expense of their own future. In this case the problem is not with those who provide them with various goods and services, the problem is with the individual who is making personal choices to consume at the expense of their own future well-being to satisfy their greed for “more”.

All of this gives the false appearance of wealth. Americans appear to think they are wealthier than they really are because we invented a system that allows us to shift our future earnings to today through debt. But make no mistake, we are robbing ourselves of our own future wealth and giving that wealth to those we borrow from.

Greed has a price: it binds your life and leads you and your family into financial servitude. You surrender your freedom to live above your means. Unfortunately, when I hear people propose solutions to America’s debt problem, no one wants to look at the ugly underbelly of our greed. We have created a society where parents don’t think twice about sending their children to become slaves by saddling them with non-bankruptible student loan debt. Parents don’t give a second thought to incurring massive crippling consumer debt to buy their children more and more things that feeds their children’s greed for “more” and further instills the greed-mindset in them.

The first solution to our problems is not simply to get more money. “Yes”, when someone digs a deep enough hole into debt, it often becomes necessary to get a “second job” or find other ways of increasing income to get out of debt. But so long as the greed-mindset that craves “more” remains, they will never be free. And here comes the unexpected twist: debt enslaves people to their lender through “greed”, which is the love of possessions. It becomes the physical chains of a much deeper spiritual problem. So long as people need “more” to be happy, they will never be happy and will always be someone’s slave through greed.

We will never be “free” so long as greed rules our hearts. Even when someone attains financial freedom so that they are not indebted to financial lenders; even when they attain “financial independence” so that they do not need money from anyone else, so long as “greed” rules the heart, the person remains a slave to “more”. Whoever is ruled by greed will always be subject to the weariness of their cravings. Such a person will never be content. They will never know “peace” even when there is no financial turmoil in their life. “Greed” always subjects the person to the tyranny of innumerable idols (Colossians 3:5).

Therefore, whoever wants to become truly free must come to Christ, who liberates the heart from the bondage of “greed” by bringing each one into the fullness of life. Then we will be free to enjoy the blessings of life in peace, whether we have “much” or “little”, we will have all that we need because we have Christ.

Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV) – 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

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