MANY feel a disquiet today in the face of record bankruptcies, staggering national deficits, and high personal indebtedness. How is the disquiet to be stilled, the problem to be solved? Politics and economics may offer road maps out, but they cannot supply the motivation to fuel the journey. That comes from somewhere else -- from within, not without. Perhaps the first priority, then, is to break out of the cycle of explanations and possible solutions and offer instead a better definition of the problem.
Ironically, the rising debt ceilings in our lives may actually be signaling just the opposite of what we've believed. Our sense of debt may not, in fact, be too expansive but too limited -- too material -- and the most basic need may not be to cut back on our obligations but to find out what they really are -- and increase them.
The early Christian, Paul, once wrote, ``Owe no man any thing, but to love one another.''1 Here is that higher, more expansive sense of debt -- debt that is not financial or material but moral and spiritual; not a burdensome obligation but a freeing, blessing, joyous responsibility. Such debt is not to be paid off but to be endlessly paid on, bringing greatest satisfaction not when it is out of the way but when it is kept fully in view and motivates one's every decision and action.
When our lives are actuated by genuine affection -- in other words, when we consciously and regularly repay our moral and spiritual debt to mankind in the form of love -- our relationships do not falsely appear to hinge on things and money but are seen in their true light as based in God, Spirit, divine Love. Matter-based indebtedness in the forms of consumerism, ``bottom-line strategy,'' and just plain greed and indulgence is then held in check. Companies and individuals are less inclined to create products or devise marketing schemes that tempt people to gratify wants rather than meet legitimate needs. And purchasers demonstrate greater wisdom in their selection of goods and services and resist investing in what is truly not in their best interest.
How, then, do we cultivate this love for one another and pay our debt to mankind? For true and lasting love we must look to God, the source of all genuine affection, and understand Him better. After all, God is Love itself, and our real being in God's image reflects divine Love. We discover our God-given affection for others and express it as we turn to God to learn more of the impartial, always present nature of Love and of ourselves as the image of Love. Then honesty, fairness, integrity, balance, compassion, will become more evident in our lives, enabling us to pay our debt to mankind. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, brings this to light in her spiritual interpretation of Christ Jesus' prayerful petition ``And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors'': ``And Love is reflected in love.''2
This spiritual sense of Jesus' words became vivid reality to me as the result of one particular experience. A number of years ago a trustee at the college I attended generously made a substantial personal loan to me so that I could participate in a special program abroad. The program turned out to be fraudulent -- the instruction promised was simply never provided -- and I returned home early, disappointed, but committed to putting the loss behind me and paying back the loan.
During and after the program I delved into a study of Jesus' teachings in the light of Christian Science. I'm sure now it was because of what I was discovering through this study of the real nature of God as Love and man as loved and loving that I never once felt a desire to ``get even'' with those who had headed the program. In fact, I was able to help other students overcome bad feelings.
Within six months I was able to repay half the loan. The day the payment was made, this trustee forgave me the balance of the debt, refusing to consider any other arrangement. Needless to say, I was extremely grateful -- and deeply touched. I learned later that the program had been dissolved by the university that had sponsored it.
Truly loving and forgiving one another does not absolve anyone of repaying legitimate loans taken out in good faith. But it does balance the scales in cases of injustice, guide us in making sound choices, and promote humanity, honesty, and moderation in the marketplace.
Gaining a right sense -- the spiritual sense -- of indebtedness is a step we can take now to aid in bringing our national and personal economies into line. We'll find it brings us closer together, too. Mrs. Eddy writes, ``The right way wins the right of way, even the way of Truth and Love whereby all our debts are paid, mankind blessed, and God glorified.''3
1Romans 13:8. 2Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 17. 3The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 232. - NO BIBLE VERSE TODAY -