Many people read those words to mean, “Don’t let yourself get into debt, except for loving each other.” Others read it, “Take care of all your debts, so that love is the only one remaining.” Read the quote above again and see how you interpret it.
The emphasis of both those readings is debt. What’s up with that? Why presume that we already have debts, or that the first priority should be to minimize or eliminate indebtedness? Sure, debt is an important issue, but more important than love? Judging by our relative attention to them, love takes second chair. Interesting emotional gravitation. Besides, that’s up-to-zero thinking. What about after becoming debt-free? Do we spend much time thinking about that, or is it about as real to us as pearly gates? Or, do we never expect to get there?
Many people, especially Christians who respect Augustine and Aquinas and Luther believe that we start life indebted; or, at least, that any innocence we began with as children was lost soon after because of “sin.” And so, Jesus died on the cross and paid our “debt of sin” for us. The larger society might not follow this line of thinking, and it doesn’t need to, with school loans, employment, house loans, car loans, “consumer” loans, duty to God, country, community, family, our fellow man, and a zillion other ways to obligate and indebt us at its disposal. Our societal paradigm–how parenting, families, school, work, church, military, and government actually work–effectively claims that we start out owing everything to everybody. Then, it claims, we must work hard to pay the debt off.
That’s actually what “earning a living” is all about. In other words, we don’t deserve to live. We begin undeserving, and maybe it gets better from there. We call those born into a family that has already “made it” there, privileged. The rest of us, if we work hard enough, (something the privileged managed to “merit” their way out of,) get compensated. Our work, but not we ourselves, “merits” us a “living.” So, unless you commit to work and “earn a living,” no living for you! Christianized, this means that, if we work hard and long enough, we’ll eventually pay off all our debts except our debt of love. We’ll always owe that.
Is that what Paul meant when he wrote those words? “You start out screwed, but if you’re industrious and lucky enough, you can make it up to zero minus love.” That’s supposed to be “freedom?” That’s a slave’s freedom, if at all. So, it begs some questions:
- Who enslaved/indebted us to begin with?
- Is that the kind of “reality” we want to live in?
- Who convinced us “that’s just the way things are?”
- What does that “reality” have to do with precious and magnificent promises, rivers of living water, joy inexpressible and full of glory, overcoming evil with good, or God’s kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit?
If life defined in terms of debt is the “reality” you want, be my guest; but that’s not how we started.
We knew how things really were as children, before the knowledge got abused out of us. We began life wonderfully debt-free. As far as we were concerned, we owed nothing to anybody–not even love. In fact, we didn’t even owe that, because to begin with we were basically incapable of love. As children, the most we can manage is attachment. So, everybody owed us everything. That’s the way things are and the way that they should be for kids, which is why we reserve a special kind of hatred for child abuse.
As we got older, no one particularly liked us reminding them how much they owed us. They put up with it for a while, but increasingly started “training” us. A reasonable first step would have been to teach us how to love. Instead, from the time we were very young, before they taught us how to love, they “taught” us something else. They actually didn’t teach, but conditioned us to believe that we owed them. They imposed that obligation on us with logic, brainwashing, laws, punishment, threats, and if nothing else worked, abuse.
How is that kind of bullshit “the truth?” Rather than holding our need for attachment hostage, telling us to “behave or else,” they should have allied with us and stepped us through our development from “selfishness” to love, modeling love and supporting us as we learned. Instead, they stood back, adopted superior positions, and demanded what they couldn’t manage themselves. Then they punished our “failures” while hiding and lying about their own.
Take the bullshit and the abuse out of the picture, and what’s left? We owe nothing to anyone; nothing but love. And we never did. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
If you’re obligated, it was your decision. God didn’t make you do it–you chose to do it. That is, unless you had no choice, meaning that you were victimized. A lot of people act as if they’re victimized by God. A lot of others act as if they’re victimized by society, or by partners, spouses, friends, neighbors, strangers, children… The victim’s list is endless. It will stay that way until they finally realize that they do have a choice. We choose to obligate ourselves. If we find out that we’re wrong, we can and should take it back: both our choice and our obligation.
If you obligate yourself against your will, you’re a victim; because you let someone force you to do something that you didn’t want to do. Why would you do that? When we’re weaker and faced with violence, we have no choice. If we keep letting it happen once we’re stronger, we the “strong” ones pretend to be weak. That makes us grown victims and hypocrites as well.
If we don’t get stronger, we need help. Help and strength are available. If you’re in that situation, Jesus meant you when he said, “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Ask, seek, and knock. Choose life.
If you obligate yourself because you love doing it or you love the person you obligate yourself to, you’ll also love paying your debt of love and fulfilling your obligation of love. There’s nothing wrong with that. There is no law or violence that can force you to do that, and no law or violence that can stop you. Love is far stronger than both.
The only valid demand of God, people, and life itself is: love. Demands for anything else are bullshit.
Demand love. Settle for nothing less, not from yourself or anyone else. Nothing less is remotely close to OK.