Chris Cox and Bill Archer have written an unsettling piece for the Wall Street Journal about the sobering reality of the US Debt. Though some may be familiar with the $16 trillion figure, there are few who realize that this is actually just the tip of the iceberg. According to the article, the true number is actually closer to $86 trillion (which amounts to 550% of our GDP). Cox and Archer argue that the government has gotten away with underestimating the actual price of our national debt since it has not needed to furnish the kind of financial documentation required of most businesses. “The actual figures,” they write, “do not appear in black and white on any balance sheet.” While the U.S. Treasury “does list liabilities such as Treasury debt issued to the public, federal employee pensions, and post-retirement health benefits…it does not include the unfunded liabilities of Medicare, Social Security and other outsized and very real obligations.”
The problem is that all the revenue collected for these particular entitlement programs is not actually being saved for the future, but is being paid out to current retirees. And this will all fall apart when more and more of our nation’s baby boomers start collecting retirement benefits. The government is currently borrowing 1 out of every 3 dollars that it spends, so what will we do when the majority of the boomers are retired? According to the authors, “Borrowing at this scale could eclipse the capacity of global capital markets–and bankrupt not only the programs themselves but the entire federal government.”
Peter Schiff, an American economist who won my respect after correctly predicting the ’08 housing bubble crisis and ensuing recession (check out “Peter Schiff was right” on YouTube), has written in his most recent book that politicians from both parties do not have the courage or will to face this issue squarely. And so he argues that our representatives will most likely continue to underemphasize the magnitude of this problem year after year until eventually the entire system collapses.
It seems to me that all this provides and apt analogy for the sobering reality of our true spiritual condition. Many of our pastors and church leaders regularly downplay the seriousness of our plight and offer helpful suggestions about doing better with God’s help, or even worse, get us to focus on having our best life now. Yet, at the end of the day, none of us is completely honest about the depth of our depravity. We know we have some debt, and we know we have a spending problem, but we still think it’s something we can manage. In reality, solving our debt problem in these ways is a little like attempting to drain the Pacific Ocean with a tablespoon.
So where are the preachers who have the courage to tell it like it is. Where are the leaders who are prepared to tell us that we’re not merely bankrupt, but need to borrow $86 trillion in order to be bankrupt! Is there anyone out there who is presenting the unvarnished truth, that our deepest problem is unfixable, and that the only way forward is to declare our own insolvency before the divine creditor?
The good news is that this particular creditor is infinitely wealthy, and has of late made news of a debt cancellation program which he has authored. Those who are chosen for this program must face up to the facts, confess their true poverty of spirit and put their trust completely in his care. When we do this, he promises to forgive us “all our trespasses by canceling the record of debt that stood against us.” But that’s just the beginning. Not only will he cancel all our debts, but he has also promised to adopt us into his family, making us his heirs. In fact, he’s currently planning a huge banquet celebration for all the new members of his family in the not too distant future. Got nothing to wear? No worries; he’s even providing the wardrobe. And on the invitation we read, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
Gracious Lord, forgive us our debts!