Detroit's bankruptcy and our own spiritual poverty

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Detroit’s bankruptcy and our own spiritual poverty

July 22, 2013 -

The city of Detroit, Michigan declared Chapter 9 bankruptcy last week, seeking court protection from its 18 billion dollars of obligations.  Michigan’s Governor Richard Snyder approved the decision that will allow Detroit to “develop and negotiate a plan to adjust their debts.”  Creditors are legally barred from suing Detroit, and the city will not be forced to liquidate any of its assets, though many will likely be up for sale soon.  

In the 1950’s, Detroit had nearly 2 million residents and was one of the most affluent cities in the nation—driven by the auto industry’s massive expansion after World War II.  The city’s population has now shrunk to about 700,000 with a sharp 25% decline in just the past decade.  

Gov. Snyder blamed 60 years of corrupt city leaders.  Recently, police response times were reported to be an average of 58 minutes and the city has been on the top 10 list of most violent US cities for over two decades.  “It’s time to say enough is enough,” Gov. Snyder said. “The bankruptcy will give Detroit the chance to do better and come out stronger.”

According to a Pew Research financial analyst, “Detroit is a very high-profile example of some of the challenges our cities continue to face, but it’s by no means unique… [This] is indicative of governments living beyond their means—and they are going to eventually have to pay the piper.”  A handful of other US cities have declared bankruptcy, but Detroit is the largest to date.

Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr said, “We’re finally at the point that we simply cannot kick the can down the road any further.”

This sentiment reminds me of . . . myself.  It is really at the core of every believer’s story of rescue.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  The poverty this beatitude speaks of is the recognition of how utterly desperate we are for God’s grace.  I have recently been contemplating how self-righteousness, in any form, is a lie.  Looking to myself to ascribe righteousness makes about as much sense as being both the lender and the borrower at a bank.  In fact Jesus has paid my debt—a debt I could never come close to paying off without him.  

This concept of our need for God’s grace is reiterated when Jesus said to the Pharisees, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).  Those who recognize need for grace are the ones who benefit from receiving it.  

Nineteenth century Scottish pastor Robert Murray McCheyne said, “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” To whom are you looking to cancel your debts today?

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