The Problem With Religion and Debt

This may bother you if you are especially religious, so here’s my warning now. Read with your own compass and then discuss in the comments. I’d love to hear what more religious people say and believe when it comes to religion and debt.

ADDED NOTE: I wrote this post last week and then decided to hold off on it. I was worried it would ruffle feathers. But then, my husband made me watch John Oliver’s viral rant on televangelism, and I decided I was going to put this out there.

This post wasn’t originally inspired by it, but it is closely related. Religion and money have been going hand in hand since inception, but what about true believers? John Oliver dives really nicely into the motivations of the leaders who preach this kind of message, but what happens on the other side of that television? Here’s my view.

….

A week ago, a “friend” on Facebook (which I still am purging daily) commented on another person’s status. The status was something along the lines of: I just have to confess. I have over $100k in consumer debt, and I don’t know what we are going to do

Then I started reading the comments from this person’s sympathetic supporters, and my entire attitude changed:

You should look into getting a second job. I know a place…

Read Dave Ramsey! He saved us when we were in debt…

Have a garage sale and pay of some of your debts from that!…

Don’t worry. God will provide. Have faith in him.

………

Wait? What was that last one?

Don’t worry. God will provide. Have faith in him.

From my experience with Christianity (which is limited), I know that this is a common phrase, especially in times of crisis. Even when our daughter was in the NICU, a very religious family member told us the same thing.

But what does it mean?

I asked a friend who received a degree in religious studies to explain to me what “God will provide” means. She interpreted it as this: We must trust that God will be there for us in our time of need. He may not hand it to you on a silver platter. He may not give it to you at all. But He will give you what you spiritually need to get through when you provide him with faith and hand him over your burdens. 

… Well, that’s a lovely message and all. I get that.

But I don’t. I really don’t. Maybe I’m jaded. Maybe I’m cynical. Maybe I’m just not believing hard enough.

Telling someone that God will provide to me translates to: “God will provide you with ways to get out of debt.” Or worse: “God will provide you a big bag of cash if you go to church enough.”

I guess I am saying this because I know people who take the phrase God will provide literally. I know a person who used to say after failing a test, “I’m not worried. Whatever’s meant to be will be because that’s what God wants.” Seriously. She said that.

I’m pretty sure your God does not want you to fail your algebra test or for you to flake on studying because your interpretation of God’s plan is for you not to go to college or learn how to stop two trains from colliding on a track at x miles per hour.

Nor do I think it is in God’s plans for us to get into debt. In fact, doing a general Google search, I see that the Bible doesn’t encourage you to take in debt. It warns you against collecting it. For example, Psalm 37:21 says:

The wicked borrow and do not repay.

I’m not a religious scholar, nor a religious person, so I will stop interpreting now.

Take the God Out of Your Financial Woes?

Here’s what I want to say: I can see having faith and being strong. Getting out of debt can be damaging to your mental health, physical health, and your relationships. Therefore, I can see the benefits of sending your worries out to your God and for also hoping that your financial burden is part of a larger journey.

I get that.

HOWEVER, I’m also one to believe that debt will not get paid off by beliefs or devoted prayer. Debt will not get washed away because God has a plan. Debt goes away when we follow good, common sense and make sound judgement.

Having a garage sale? Great plan! Praying daily for a miracle? Not so hot!

God’s plans did not include for me to having over $40k in student loans. Heck no! His plans were for me to go to college, to find a passion, to meet the amazing friends I met.

My way of getting there were all of my choices, including signing the dotted line on the loan paperwork. And now, it is my job to get myself out of debt so that I can let go of my worries.

Blinding Faith

I will never tell someone that their beliefs are wrong. Never. That’s totally not in my own belief system.

What I will say is that I wish people would stop relying on the God will provide to justify their own laziness and self-interests. I wish that people of any belief system would stop using the Whatever’s meant to be to not own up to their own mistakes and choices.

I get it. Debt SUCKS. But if we collectively take action and make the painful baby steps, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is a solution up ahead. Religion can help us see that, but it can also blind us to what really needs to be done.

 

11 comments for “The Problem With Religion and Debt

  1. August 24, 2015 at 9:08 am

    So interesting that you posted this! I just posted about how my Christianity influences my debt repayment journey! (http://thedebtdetective.com/2015/08/dealing-with-the-stress-of-a-crisis/)

    I think all of your points are great and I totally agree. Yes, God will absolutely provide but like all relationships, it’s a 50/50 thing and you have to do your part.

    Great blog, I look forward to reading more!

  2. August 24, 2015 at 10:53 am

    As the more religious one in the family, I just wanted to make a comment here… I think you’re 100% right about this “God Will Provide” stuff. God *does* provide, so far as I can tell, but God does *not* provide materially. The New Testament in particular preaches against living in the material world—but so too, at various points, do the Quran, the Torah, and various sacred texts in nearly all major religions. The point being, reliance on God to provide material sustenance is contrary to what most holy books teach. So no, we shouldn’t rely on God to wipe out our credit card debt. We need to deal with the material world; God will deal with the Great Beyond.

  3. August 24, 2015 at 11:21 am

    I’m glad you decided to post this!
    Throughout my year (and counting) of unemployment/underemployment, I’ve been getting similar advice as to “God will provide”.
    I know the people that say that to mean well, and I am very appreciative of the faith they have for me. But I also struggle with it. Are they saying that it is out of my control? That there is nothing I can do to better my situation myself??
    I try to stay positive and focus on everything that I’ve learned from this experience, but I also own up to the fact that my choices led me to this. I left a full time job (that I hated, mind you) to take a contract job. I knew that I’d be laid off once that contract ended. It was a risk that I took, and now I have to deal with the consequences.
    I do hope that God will provide, but I’m also going to do what I can to provide for myself.

  4. Carol
    August 24, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    I believe God will provide. He will provide a direction to pray for guidance, for meaningful people & experiences to help you through, for strength to endure the journey. Probably not a big check coming out of the blue, not because He can’t, but we learn nothing from hand outs. These things I learned from personal experience.

  5. Sue
    August 25, 2015 at 10:39 am

    I went to a all women’s Cathoolic college and one of the nun’s would say this often. Pray like there is no work and work like there is no prayer. Personally I believe in God but I believe he expects me to be a responsible person. 100k of consumer debt is not responsible….

  6. Sue
    August 25, 2015 at 10:56 am

    Just watched part of the video. Wow those preachers are disgusting and I had to turn it off. I feel bad for all the people who fall for those tricks.

  7. August 26, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    Very thought provoking post. I try to follow my religion as best as I can, and sometimes these religious platitudes like “God will provide” and “God willing” get thrown around a lot. It can get annoying when people say things like that because they can’t give a firm answer on something.

    Another danger lies in taking sayings like these seriously. I’ve seen unemployed people staying in the mosque day and night to pray for their condition. Not a surprise that many of them stay unemployed.

  8. August 26, 2015 at 7:45 pm

    I think we should just balance it all and think what is best for us. We have to know what is right and wrong like having debt over $40k in student loan is wrong.

  9. August 27, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    I think that it’s easy to take the statement literally, and use it to make a very reasonable post about why you have to take action to get out of debt, which is what you did. But I think the deeper meaning of that statement is that understanding and being in touch with a higher power and a spiritual side, which for Christians is personified as “God”, is how a person can own their power and understand what actions they need to take. That higher power may not “provide” in a literal sense, but it will help you get through the day when you have 100k in debt, while taking the actions you need to reduce your debt. This is basically an idea that 12-step programs embrace. 12 step programs tell people to accept their powerlessness and trust that a higher power can guide them as they work to stop drinking, doing drugs, overspending, and many, many other problems (there’s a 12 step for that!). This doesn’t mean that that person is actually powerless in their life or that a higher power will solve all their problems. It’s about accepting what is, and having faith as you decide you no longer want to drink/be in debt/be an underearner/whatever. I personally have never been religious but have recently started to learn about the benefits of having a higher power. Your higher power doesn’t need to be a God or even a god. But it does mean that we stop playing God in our own and others lives, and instead take action more mindfully, and not try to force actions, act without thinking because you feel compelled to act, etc. So I get that urge to be turned off by people’s religiosity, but I think that their hearts are in the right place, and when taken in a not so literal sense, those words are quite powerful indeed.

  10. September 1, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    I’m not religious either, so I guess I don’t get it. I think the platitude is dangerous. First of all, when it comes to debt, no… God won’t provide. He won’t send a big ole’ bag of cash (complete with dollar sign on the front) to save you from your problems. Assuming you believe in him, I guess you could think of it like God might provide you some opportunities.

    But in answer to the “I don’t know where to start” statement, the platitude isn’t helpful.

    And what if you take the platitude in the “opportunities” sense? Well, then you might sit around waiting for some big help. You might miss little opportunities. Or maybe none come your way at all, and then you *still* don’t know what to do.

    As for the whole God’s will in situations like your baby… Grrrrr. Don’t tell someone who’s suffering to let go and let God. They’re hurting, and that’s not what they need to hear.

  11. September 3, 2015 at 9:23 am

    I think religious can be great for people and hey, they say that people who feel they belong to some kind of community, especially religious actually live longer. But…when my friend Lorna was dying from colon cancer, she has one of those cancer care update web pages, and there were SO many annoying religious messages that I actually felt bad for her (still not sure where she actually stood herself on religion). Stuff like, “God has a plan for you” or “Jesus will heal you.” I honestly would get angry reading the messages because honestly, that stuff would not have given me comfort. Anyway, slightly off-topic. I do wonder about people who give and give to religious organizations even though they are still in major debt, as if they are obligated or God will be please and send some kind of financial windfall their way. It seems to me that God would understand if maybe you could just volunteer your time instead? Or take a break from giving financially until you can take care of yourself? That one has never sat right with me.

    BTW, I was planning on doing a post or video on those people who believe The Secret and all it’s crazy practices will somehow make you wealthy. I have a friend in complete financial denial who is obsessed with those kinds of authors and attends seminar after similar, and is constantly trying to rope me into some kind of get rich quick or pyramid scheme.

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