Most of us know what it is like to carry a burden of debt. College and grad school cost a bundle. A house and a car have most us making payments. Credit cars seduce us to buy now and pay later.
That is an everyday scenario in our consumer society. How are we going to pay down those debts when daily living costs more than we make?
As the old Tennessee Ernie Ford song put it,
“You load sixteen tons. What do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.”
When it comes time to pay those bills dread, panic, and despair fight each other for attention.
The writers of the Heidelberg Catechism thought that was a great metaphor for where we all are spiritually.
13. Q. Can we make this payment ourselves?
A. Certainly not.
Actually we increase our debt every day.
This comes just after a discussion of the misery we cause ourselves by the choices we make — aka our “sins.”
It is near the beginning of the Catechism’s discussion of God’s solution to our misery — aka our deliverance through Christ.
Christian theology has a lot of ways to talk about the consequences of our bad choices:
- Economics: In the quotation the consequences of sin are “financial”: misdeeds place us in debt.
- Justice: American Christianity is more prone to talk in “courtroom” language: sin is crime and leads to punishment.
- Relationships: Another common emphasis is interpersonal: sin is disobedience and it makes God really angry.
You’ll find elements of all three in Heidelberg. However,
it is worth highlighting this idea of debt. It is the least familiar. It also rings true to our experience.
Most people do not actually feel like they have done anything criminal. They probably do not feel like they have done anything to get God angry. If people don’t feel like they have the problem Jesus solves, they are going to have a hard time finding much good in the Good News.
But we know what debt feels like. We know what it feels like to add to our debts every day.
That is an understanding of sin that translates pretty well into today’s familiar language.
Let me be clear: I do not think that Jesus promises us a way out of our financial debts. But I think the Heidelberg Catechism is right — and wise— in saying that the Good News is that Jesus has the resources to pay our spiritual debts in full.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments. What do you think are the key consequences of sin?
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