I had just returned home from church services and was preparing to take two of our granddaughters out for a walk. When we opened the front door, we saw 10 or more police cars, a fire truck and an ambulance about 300 yards away from our home. We started walking toward them, as this was the direction we wanted to go.
As we drew nearer, we learned that a man had driven up to the house and twice shot a woman on the lawn before turning the gun on himself. He died instantly. And his body was now on the ground covered by a sheet. The woman was being taken to the hospital where she died the following day. He was 33; she was 29. If I had been looking out of our front window I would have witnessed this murder-suicide.
It turned out the couple had been married. She was in the process of leaving him when he turned up at her new home on moving day and fired the fatal shots.
They left three children behind to be raised by the wife's mother.
What amazed me is how quickly the world moved on. The murder and suicide took place just after 5 p.m. We walked by a few minutes before 5:30, by which time I counted 10 police cars and a fire truck. By this time, the ambulance had left to take the woman to the hospital. By 5:47, when I looked at my watch, hardly anyone remained!
In less than an hour there was little evidence that anything bad had taken place. Clearly, the authorities were used to this kind of incident and could clear the scene quickly.
Economic pressures stressing families
A few days later, our local newspaper mentioned the incident in a front page article about how murder-suicides initiated by husbands are increasingly common, both locally and nationally. One possible reason given for the increase is the state of the economy.
The economic situation is stressing many families beyond endurance. Typically, couples are both working long and irregular hours, making it very difficult to take care of their children or spend quality time together. Additionally, when health issues arise from the stress, couples increasingly lack health-care coverage or the money to seek medical help.
One lady I talked to recently had gone through a divorce and was now working seven days a week at two jobs, both at minimum wage. Her total take-home pay was less than $1,000 a month, and she had no health-care benefits. While such benefits are normally provided by an employer, many small businesses, themselves stretched to the limit, can no longer afford them.
On the same day, a young man shared his sense of hopelessness, stating his conviction that things are not going to get any better. He went so far as to say that, as he put it, "America is on its way out!"
Mort Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of U.S. News and World Report, soberly described this period in American history as "The End of American Optimism" in an Aug. 16, 2010, article in The Wall Street Journal.
Another Wall Street Journal piece highlighted the plight of young working-class people, the article being titled "The Generation That Can't Move On Up." The problem, the article says, isn't just lack of money:
"Not only are many members of the younger working class unprepared for the contemporary job market. New research we have done shows their striking inability to fit the middle-class ideal in family and religious life. It's a worrisome development for their lifestyle and our culture" (Andrew Cherlin and Bradford Wilcox, Sept. 3, 2010).
Families are fragmented, and there is no time for God—the biblical idea of a "day of rest" having died out long ago. Lax divorce laws and alternative living arrangements have also taken a hit when it comes to family life. Antireligious teachings in education have also contributed.
For a nation founded by devoted religious believers and based on Christian principles, the United States has clearly lost its way. What would surprise many Americans is realizing that the very Bible the country increasingly rejects contains the answers to its current problems!
Biblical solutions to today's problems
A prophecy in 2 Timothy 3:2 warned that in the end time "men would be lovers of themselves." This has certainly become the case in our generation.
There are reasons for this. With the invention of the birth control pill 50 years ago and the sexual revolution that followed in the 1960s, Western societies turned their backs on the marriage customs of centuries. No longer did a man have to work hard to be able to provide for a wife and children before he could enjoy the certainty of a regular sexual relationship.
Now it was possible to indulge in wanton sexual relationships without consequences (at least none that were readily apparent at the time). There was no longer any requirement to grow up. The result has been increasing self-centeredness among those of both sexes.
One consequence has been that children have been devalued. My local newspaper, the Lansing State Journal, has been championing a reversal of Michigan's liberal divorce law to help the 30,000 annual young victims of divorce—what the paper refers to as "disposable children."
It's not just that divorce has serious emotional consequences for children, but it is also the number one cause of poverty. This only adds to financial stress.
In the Great Depression of the 1930s, most families stayed together, each trying to survive together as a family. In the current deep recession, many families have fallen apart, only exacerbating their financial hardship. The number of households using our local food banks goes up each month without fail, a reflection on both a worsening economy and the state of many families.
For almost 50 years government has bailed out broken families with food stamps, free medical care for children and assistance programs for single mothers. This has led to higher taxes—which, ironically, not only make it more difficult for other families who must bear the additional tax burden, but also make it harder for American businesses to compete with other nations.
Also, what will happen when the government goes broke? Don't think it can't happen. The United States will not be the first country in history to go bankrupt!
Strengthening the family with stricter divorce laws requiring counseling for both parties, together with tax incentives that encourage people to marry rather than cohabit, is one essential first step for improving the lot of children and parents.
It's no coincidence that the countries America is competing against have more solid family structures than those in the Western world, and that's to their credit. For example, whereas the United States and United Kingdom have a divorce rate of about 50 percent, India's is 1.1 percent—that's right, only 11 couples out of every 1,000 divorce!
The murder-suicide close to my home reminded me immediately of Malachi 2:16, a verse that tells us that God "hates divorce, for it covers one's garments with violence." As our local paper has pointed out, divorce is also a predictor of violence, as a disproportionate number of the children of divorce end up in our prisons. Divorce feeds anger in both spouses and their children.
A young lady I know recently attended the funeral of a 3-year-old girl, killed when her stepfather threw her down the stairs in a fit of anger—a further reminder of how children are often unappreciated and helpless when their parents split up.
Earlier this year while my wife and I were visiting our daughter and her family in Indiana, we saw a police helicopter over a home in their small community. Sadly, it turned out that a young man had stabbed to death both his parents and his brother in yet another family tragedy. It seems that wherever we turn, we see and hear the most horrendous stories of broken families and the tragic consequences.
Our need for a day of rest
One societal change that would greatly benefit families is a weekly day of rest, so that families can spend more time together, enabling them to better deal with the stress and heal broken relationships.
It's very common now for a husband and wife with children to have different work hours, the result being that they hardly see each other and have to juggle parental responsibilities, with one parent dropping off the children at school and another meeting them at the end of the day—a situation compounded by having children of different ages attending more than one school.
After-school activities and school activities in the evening, usually sports, add to the stress, with parents running their children around, limiting the opportunity for the whole family to sit down for dinner together in the evening.
At the beginning of time, God gave our ancestors Adam and Eve a day of rest, called the Sabbath—from a Hebrew root word meaning "to cease (from work)" or "to rest." You can read about this in the second chapter of the Bible: "And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made" (Genesis 2:2-3).
Reaffirming the Sabbath, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, tells us that "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27).
People need a day of rest. Families need time together—to rest, to worship God and to build close family relationships. Society does not need businesses open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. What families need is a day of rest, the Sabbath that God gave to mankind for our benefit.
Factors in the economic crisis
The Bible not only gives us instruction on how to have better family relationships and a more balanced life, it also gives us principles that, if followed, would solve the present economic crisis that is afflicting much of the world.
My wife and I don't have any debts other than our house payment. We live in a modest home in an average neighborhood, but our house payment takes a significant percentage of our income each month. And like typical housing loans, most of that house payment is interest for the first half of the life of the loan.
Looking at the monthly statement I receive from the bank, we are paying almost $800 per month in interest. That's $800 we cannot spend on anything else. Effectively, it's money down the proverbial drain!
There are tens of millions of people like us in the United States and millions more in other countries. We are frequently being told by governments that the biggest problem right now is that people are not spending. The result is that factories and businesses are closing down and unemployment is increasing. But if we did not have to pay so much interest on our house payment, we would have hundreds more dollars each month to spend, thereby boosting local businesses and distant factories. If others could do the same, our national economies would start moving again.
Each of us is certainly responsible for the debt we incur. However, with regard to home buying in the United States, few can afford to do so without taking on considerable mortgage debt. We could opt to rent, but that often seems to be throwing money away when we could at least be building equity through home ownership.
Compounding the problem, the ability of people to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars over 30-year repayment periods has served to drastically inflate the price of housing—leading to the recent burst housing bubble that devastated the American economy. Government has helped to create and perpetuate the present mortgage system, even requiring that lenders make loans to those who could not afford to repay them—another major factor in the recent housing crisis.
Why not try biblical solutions?
What could change not just our personal circumstances, but the entire system?
Many understand that the Bible forbids the charging of "usury" or interest in taking advantage of others (see Exodus 22:25-27; Leviticus 25:35-37; Deuteronomy 23:19-20; 24:10-13). But beyond that, we read in Deuteronomy 15 about the year of release. Once every seven years the nation of Israel was to observe a year of release in which all debts were cancelled. Effectively, the economy had to, in many respects, restart with everyone debt-free. This and other biblical laws would help to prevent the long-term poverty we see around us.
Under a system of debt release every seven years, obviously no one could take out a 30-year loan for a house. This would mean major changes in how housing would be built and paid for, and prices would necessarily have to come down to more affordable levels. Housing payments would also not include a great deal of money being effectively thrown away through a massive chunk going to interest.
I don't have to tell you what an incredible difference those hundreds of extra dollars per month would make to our lives. Multiply that by tens of millions of people and think what a difference it would make to the national and international economy! People could start spending again, giving the needed boost to production and jobs.
Families might even be able to go back to the way things were in the 1950s or '60s, when most wives were able to stay home and take care of the children, a far less stressful time for those of us who remember it.
The large outlay for interest, along with the burden of over-taxation by government, has slowed our nations down. In fact, we have been brought to a grinding halt, yet nobody seems to realize it, and none looks to the Scriptures for guidance.
Our present financial predicament has been called "the debt crisis." It's not just mortgage debt that is the problem. Tens of millions of people have overextended themselves, owing multiple thousands of dollars to credit card companies and banks in addition to what they owe for their homes.
Part of the biblical solution is to avoid borrowing and to pay back what we owe as soon as we can (Proverbs 22:7), as well as the safety net of a year of release to help families who have made mistakes or have fallen on hard times!
As you can see from Scripture's instruction regarding economic matters, far from being an irrelevant book written thousands of years ago, the Bible is full of relevant solutions to contemporary problems. GN