Arguably some of the most important work I do with clients is integrating their financial and spiritual lives — e.g., how does what you do with your money reflect your beliefs about The World and your place in it? Sometimes, a client says one thing, but their money says another, and I have to gently point out where the two differ. However, what can be more troublesome is when a client’s finances follow their theology completely…straight down a black hole of credit card debt. This is most often the case with the Theology of Abundance.
The Theology of Abundance is a fairly straightforward aspect of the Christian faith in particular; it says that you shouldn’t hoard your resources out of fear, but that you should give freely as God has given to you. The example of Jesus feeding the five thousand with only a few loaves and fishes is given as a prime example. And it’s a great theology; that kind of faith frees you to let go of your money, which in turn releases your money’s hold on you.
You can probably see where such a theology might lead you into trouble: “I shouldn’t worry about my finances, so budgeting is, in fact, something to be avoided. I give to the church, and my family, and my friends, and those I meet on the street…and occasionally buy myself nice things. God will provide, right?” And then the credit card bills come in, and that’s amended to, “God will provide eventually, right?” Despite faithfully following Jesus’ example with the loaves and fishes, there’s a twinge of guilt, and a nagging feeling: does the Theology of Abundance actually work in the real world? But of course that would question your faith, so you shove that nagging feeling down and continue to (faithfully!) ignore your finances. And the debt piles up, until you barely have the cash flow to pay your normal bills, much less help anyone else out.
So, does this mean that the Theology of Abundance is wrong? As it turns out, no. There’s a crucial point here that people overlook when applying the loaves and fishes to modern-day life: Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to give what they didn’t have. He didn’t say, “go get a loan of a few hundred denarii, and feed these people”; he asked, “What do you have?” And he was able to work a miracle with that. The trouble is that with the advent of credit cards, it is ridiculously easy to spend what we don’t have, and there’s where we get into trouble. If you want Bible quotes, here’s one from Proverbs that Dave Ramsey loves to throw around: “the borrower is slave to the lender.” He’s not wrong, either; how can you live your life faithfully as a servant of God when you’re already a servant of your creditors?
If you truly believe in abundance, then the only reason you should be carrying credit cards is for convenience. If they’re a temptation to live beyond your means, throw them away and start using the envelope method — it’s actually more fun than you might think! Once you start giving out of what you have, and not what your credit card company has — once you allow God to work with your small handful of loaves and fishes — then you’ll start seeing the real miracles happen.