There is nothing more terrifying than walking outside to find your car is gone, and nothing more humbling than learning you’re to blame.
That’s what happened to me one spring morning in 2006. I walked out of my apartment and found a pair of black tire marks in place of my car. I called the police, assuming someone had stolen my Saturn during the night. I quickly found out the truth was more embarrassing.
At the time, I was trying to make a living as a reporter at a weekly paper. I should have known it was going to be difficult when, upon being offered the job, I had to ask for a calculator to see if I could afford to live on the salary they offered. Despite having a second job at a local bookstore, it was difficult to scrape enough money together each month for rent, food and bills. One of the obligations that took a hit: My car loan, which languished for too long without a payment. When I called the police, they informed me that my car had not been stolen; it had been taken back.
It was one of the worst days of my life. I had to call in sick and figure out a plan, which included confessing my screw-up to my parents, who loaned me the $1,000 I needed to get the car out of hock (I should say gave me the money, because I can’t imagine I had the means to pay it back). My roommate drove me to a party store so I could send a money order via Western Union. The next day, my sister drove me nearly an hour to where the car was being stored.
In addition to the embarrassment I felt from having a vehicle repossessed, I bore a black mark on my credit that took years to fall off. I moved back home with my parents for two years to ensure that I had enough money to meet my bills. I was unable to secure a credit card for years. I worried that I would never be able to buy another car or a house; I went into panic attacks when I finally applied for an apartment, fearing my failure to keep up with my car would prevent me from finding a place to live (it didn’t; but the repo did mean that my interest rates were nightmares for several years).
I know the problem of having debts you can’t pay. It’s not a good feeling. You feel helpless and ashamed. Your irresponsibility is brought to light and you’re dependent on others to make things right. You become painfully aware of how little you have and how much you owe, not to mention how much you’ve let someone down.
I also know the joy of debt paid. I’ve worked hard and have brought some credit card balances to zero. Just last summer, I paid off my car (not the same car as before). To received that “paid in full,” zero-balance notice and know that your obligation is fulfilled is one of life’s great moments. There’s a weight lifted, as the debt you’ve been shackled to falls away.
Which is why Good Friday and Easter weekend are so bittersweet.
Good Friday is a reminder of a debt I could never pay. On the cross, I see every sin I’ve committed starting back at me. It’s brought to my attention that every breath I’ve taken has been soaked in selfishness. When it comes to a statement of righteousness, I’m deep in the red. Given that even my best works are tinged with rebellion and self-interest, I can never hope to reach a zero balance, let alone a positive mark. Before God, I’m helpless and unable to make things right.
And yet, there’s an act of divine repossession, as God looks at my ledger and says “it’s on me.” That’s the beauty of Good Friday. I can’t have someone loan me righteousness, and I can’t scrounge or save enough of it. Instead of condemning me, Christ came and paid the debt I owed, dying in my place and absorbing the wrath that was rightfully mine. And it’s not a loan; it’s a payment. It’s not just enough to restore me to good standing; Christ’s righteousness puts me so far in the positive balance that I never have to inability to pay again. That record of my sin? It’s nailed to the cross (Col. 2: 13-14) and replaced with a zero-balance letter.
It’s a hard truth to face, especially in a culture where we like to believe we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and be self-made men and women. Good Friday is a reminder of our deep debt and our inability to pay. But it’s also a wonderful time to refocus on our benefactor, the person who made redeemed us. On the cross we see our guilt and His goodness, our weakness and His strength, our shame and His glory. Red marks have been replaced by red blood, debtor’s prison is now an empty tomb. We are debt-free, now possessed by our glorious King.