New York City.

If you want a view of the skyline, visit the Brooklyn Bridge.

For entertainment go to Broadway.

Looking for inspiration? Tour the Statue of Liberty.

Like to shop? The stores on Fifth Avenue await your credit card.

But if you want to be depressed, utterly overwhelmed, and absolutely distraught, take a cab to the corner of Avenue of the Americas and West Forty-Fourth Street and spend a few moments in the presence of the US National Debt Clock. The sign is twenty-five feet wide, weighs fifteen hundred pounds, and uses 306 bulbs to constantly, mercilessly, endlessly declare the US debt and each family’s share. The original clock wasn’t built to run backward, but that feature has seldom been needed. Plans to install an updated model that can display some quadrillion dollars have been discussed. If debt is a tidal wave, according to this sign the undertow is going to suck us out to sea.

I’m not an economist; I’m a preacher. But my monetary experience has taught me this: when people owe more than they own, expect trouble.

Again, I’m not an economist. I’m a preacher, which may explain the odd question that occurred to me as I pondered the debt clock. What if heaven had one of these? A marquee that measured, not our fiscal debt, but our spiritual one? Scripture often refers to sin in financial terminology. Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6:12). If sin is a debt, do you and I have a dot matrix trespass counter in heaven? Does it click at each infraction?

We lie. Click.

We gossip. Click.

We demand our way. Click.

We doze off while reading a Lucado book. Click, click, click.

Talk about depressing. A financial liability is one matter, but a spiritual one? The debt of sin has a serious consequence. It separates us from God.

Your iniquities have separated
you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
so that he will not hear. (Isa. 59:2)

The algebra of heaven reads something like this: heaven is a perfect place for perfect people, which leaves us in a perfect mess. According to heaven’s debt clock we owe more than we could ever repay. Every day brings more sin, more debt, and more questions like this one: “Who will deliver me?” (Rom. 7:24 NKJV).

The realization of our moral debt sends some people into a frenzy of good works. Life becomes an unending quest to do enough, be better, accomplish more. A pursuit of piety. We attend church, tend to the sick, go on pilgrimages, and go on fasts. Yet deep within is the gnawing fear, What if, having done all that, I’ve not done enough?

Other people respond to the list, not with activity, but unbelief. They throw up their hands and walk away exasperated. No God would demand so much. He can’t be pleased. He can’t be satisfied. He must not exist. If he does exist, he is not worth knowing.

Two extremes. The legalist and the atheist. The worker desperate to impress God. The unbeliever convinced there is no God. Can you relate to either of the two? Do you know the weariness that comes from legalism? Do you know the loneliness that comes from atheism?

What do we do? Are despair and disbelief the only options?

No one loved to answer that question more than the apostle Paul, who said, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

Max Lucado, Unshakable Hope: Building Our Lives on the Promises of God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018).

I have just completed a 7 Week Bible Study Lesson Series on Max Lucado’s book Unshakable Hope. It is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription plan. The idea is to invite each participant to purchase their own book.