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.
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.