One More Thought About "the Debtor's Ethic"


In the post below, I mentioned John Piper’s concept of “the debtor’s ethic”–the subtle, seductive tendency for genuine heartfelt gratitude to God to metastasize into something spiritually unhealthy. That “something” is usually the impulse to pay God back or to want to feel you’ve done your bit to earn some additional future blessing.

It’s an important difference but a subtle one.

So how can you tell when you have slipped over from the cool pure waters of gratitude into the brackish muck of the debtor’s ethic? Here is a mental picture to help you understand the difference.

Imagine you’re trapped in a deep dark well with no means of ever climbing out. To make matters worse, the icy water is rising. Your situation is as desperate as it is hopeless.

Just as you are about to succumb to despair, you see a head silhouetted against the small circle of blue sky above you. A voice says, “Hold on. I’m going to lower down a rope.” And as that promised rope reaches you, what you are feeling in that moment is pure, crystalline gratitude.

Fifteen minutes later you are squinting and drip drying in the bright sunshine. You thank your rescuer for the 14th time. But now that your feet are on dry land, your pride and dignity are beginning to rouse themselves out of the terrified stupor that previously had them paralyzed. The next thing you know you hear yourself saying, “What do I owe you for the rescue?” Or, “Hey, can I paint your house for you?”

What you feel when that rope comes tumbling down the well shaft . . . that’s gratitude. And God’s offer of salvation and abundant life . . . that’s our rope.