So it seems to me that we are really in it now. The exact contents of “it” have yet to be revealed but, whatever “it” is, we are in it. I am not making any specific predictions, other than to say that I believe everybody needs to find that seat belt called “trust in God,” insert the metal tip into the buckle, and to cinch it both low and tight around the waist.
From the beginning of the COVID-19 situation, let us call it, I have been concerned about two things. One of them has been the epidemic itself, and so you should wash your hands, and the other would the hard and real world consequences of an over-heated response to it.
Yesterday the president asked for something approaching a trillion dollars in order to help out those who have been impacted by the slowdown of the economy, in the light of a possible shutdown of the economy. When we we say “impacted” by all this, we mean American industries and don’t forget the American workers. And impacted really shouldn’t be that kind of a verb, but what can you do?
The Fed already has the interest rates at zero, where the rates will remain until some rascally genius over there thinks of running the interest rates into negative numbers (“where we pay you to borrow some money!”). And you personally might be receiving a check for a thousand dollars in the next couple of weeks, courtesy of your defenseless grandchildren.
The American economy is a beast, and you cannot just turn the thing off. And we should all know that if you turn that spigot handle all the way to the right, wait for a month, and turn it all the way to the left again, it will not just resume from the place where it was. During that month, there will have been multiple lay-offs, business closures, bankruptcies, depletion of personal savings, supply chain dislocations, and all the rest of it. And then when you get your “sorry-about-all-that” check from the government, it will be as though your mom just died, and somebody offered you a quarter.
Like What . . .?
Imagine, if you will, an overcrowded ferry boat, and somebody on the starboard side announces to the people pressed in all around him that he thinks he is coming down with a deadly and very contagious disease, cough cough. If immediate action is not taken now, everyone on the ferry could die of that disease. Should something be done? Well, of course. But it should also be noted that some things ought not to be done. So suppose further that the thing that is done is that everybody stampedes to the port side in order to escape possible contagion from the deadly disease. Within a very short space of time, as they will all soon discover, all the passengers will stop thinking about that deadly disease and start thinking about their prospects of drowning.
This is like burning down your house to kill the termites. This is like taking a header into the river to get out of some drizzle.
What could make us stop thinking about COVID-19? Well, one possibility was that we stop thinking about it because the epidemic passed through the population, and life went back to normal. That would have been nice. Another possibility is that we stop thinking about it because we find ourselves in the shambles of an economy, sitting amidst the rubble of blue ruination. A third possibility is that some of the people in charge notice that the official response has an actual price tag, and they stare long and hard at the prospects of blue ruination, and then announce to the American public that a cure for COVID-19 has been found (ta da!), whether it has been or not, and so everybody needs to get back to work pronto. No, no, no need for a mask. That was yesterday.
In the meantime, no one person helping to capsize that ferry believes himself to be in any way responsible for it. “I was just strolling over to the port side, just in case.” No one raindrop thinks itself responsible for the flood.
The Nature of Default
If I borrow a thousand dollars from somebody, then they’ve got me. If I borrow a hundred billion from them, then I’ve got them. Meditate on this, and I trust the meaning will become clearer as time goes on.
The national debt was already a default in waiting. There is no mathematical possibility of us not defaulting. This plane is going to crash, and the only decisions that the pilots can affect right now is who or what they are going to crash into. The freedom with which our bipartisan panickers can ask for another trillion to be thrown onto that pile is an indication of just how far from fiscal sanity we have wandered.
The ferry is about to go over, and instead of life preservers, the crew is handing out cinder blocks and bricks.
God gives people jobs, and wealth comes from people with jobs. Wealth does not come from government. All the money that governments can therefore spend or give away is money that is coming from somewhere else, coming somehow from the people with jobs. A government can acquire this wealth by conquest (this was how the Mongols did it), by taxing the bejeebers out of the populace (how Prince John of Robin Hood fame did it), or by sneaky taxation (inflating the currency, as numerous economists with law degrees have done it ). Another possibility is to simply repudiate the debts, and tell all the banks to pound sand. But whichever way it goes, the plane will crash into a populated area, and it won’t be a happy time for anybody.
FDR famously said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. This is profoundly wrong-headed. The only thing we have to fear is God Himself.
Whatever is happening right now, and it sure looks like 9 miles of bad road to me, we have to remember that God is the one who decided that this is exactly what we needed. This is perfect. It is a trial that He crafted Himself, before eternal times, and He determined that a trial just like this one was what that particular fat and sassy people needed.
The reason we have been so susceptible to fear is that, as a people, we are burdened with guilt. A guilty people will necessarily be a fearful people. It is not so much that we will all die, but that we know at some level how much we deserve to die. Our national debt, now in the double digit trillions, is really bad, and profoundly beyond our ability to pay. But this fiscal debt of ours is absolutely nothing compared to the moral debts we have racked up.
I know that a number of my readers here are preachers of the gospel, so I would ask you this. What would you rather have? A roaring economy, and a people who will not listen to the words of God, or enormous economic challenges and a people who have been chastened to the point where they might listen to the words of free grace? But in order to have the latter, you might have to endure quite a bit of hardship yourself. Remember that. Now, what would you rather have?
Those moral debts — we are a country blood-soaked with the lives of infants, we celebrate sodomite marriages, we give ourselves over to rampant thievery, and we careen through our lives shattering all the rest of the Ten Commandments — are debts we cannot pay. We deserve damnation. We deserve to be ruined. We deserve to be brought down. Whatever happens, we deserve all of it and we did it to ourselves. We listened to some experts, jumped to conclusions, and then demanded action from our political leaders and lo . . . over the cliff we went.
“His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, They are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; Sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, And they are shepherds that cannot understand: They all look to their own way, Every one for his gain, from his quarter.”
Isaiah 56:10–11 (KJV)
So what could possibly be good news in a situation like this one?
The good news is that Jesus paid it all. The message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a message that declares that anyone who is willing to acknowledge the folly of their own wisdom, and who is willing to submit to the wisdom of God that was manifested in the cross, is one who will have all of his guilt washed away. And when that guilt is gone, the constant and nagging fear, which has to do with punishment, will be driven out as well. This really is a come to Jesus moment.
Unless I have misread the situation, I believe that every preacher of the gospel will have manifold opportunities to talk much more about this in the days to come. Remember that God is always good, all the time. And remember also that the only way we can remember that God is always good, all the time, is by looking in genuine faith to Jesus Christ.