By now, everyone reading this probably knows of the financial crunch the state of Illinois is in. The consensus is that the state’s debt sits at around $13 billion dollars. That is half of Illinois’s 26 billion dollar general revenue fund, of which 9 out of every 10 dollars are spent on education, healthcare, human services, and public safety. Our problem is not, as many would be surprised to learn, profligate spending, but a flawed tax system. So, this January, the Illinois General Assembly voted to raise the state’s income and property tax, a move which, of course, was immediately denigrated by opponents both in and out of state.
Now, they are considering a debt restructuring bill, which is very similar to restructuring your personal debt. This bill would allow Illinois to pay the money owed to organizations and business around the state, such as food pantries, battered women’s shelters, charity healthcare programs, and other human service groups providing care for those people who need it most. Those against it are playing it safe, politically. They say more cuts should be made or more reforms should be put in place. However, while they stall, homeless teens are living in their cars because their funding was cut from the 2011 budget.
To detractors, the number has become more important than the people affected by their decision. Our state’s debt is not desirable, no doubt, and does nothing to help the people who receive state aid. However, seeing the debt as something to be curtailed, an end in itself, rather than a means to the end of compassion and care, is threatening the most vulnerable citizens.
Protecting those who have the least is exactly what Christ expresses in his gospel message — the good news is that the kingdom of God is at hand. We can join in the saving work God has begun on earth through Christ, and through that work, we can know more of God’s love. Our works are channels of God’s grace, both to others and for ourselves. When we are commanded to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, visit the prisoner, and care for the poor, God is giving us an opportunity to realize God’s ever present help in our time of need. The commandments, the laws themselves, are a sharing of God’s gift, offered without regard to merit or worth.
As a people who know and live in the resurrection of Christ, we can be assured of our salvation by trusting in God’s forgiveness of our sins. However, perhaps the extent to which we can delight now in the joy of our salvation is linked to the degree to which we demonstrate those attitudes and activities conducive to it. What is considered law may be no more than what is necessary to receive the gospel message in the first place. If we ignore the grace of God in order to follow the commands of God, we are treating the law as an end in itself, when the end, in fact, will always be our Creator.
Addressing our state budget is a daunting task. However, reducing the debt by slashing aid to those who need it most not only denies the compassion of Christ, but disallows our own ability to rejoice in what God has done and is doing for us. To assist the most downtrodden is to realize God’s grace working in our own hearts. So, serve God, love God, know God, that you might know the fullness of your own salvation.