The idea that the world doesn’t owe you anything, you owe the world something is insidious. Not only is it everywhere, not only does it take on many forms, but it’s actually half true. These are the most dangerous kinds of lies. If I tell you that you have purple skin, you can easily refute that simply by looking at your hands or in a mirror. But if I tell you something that you’re afraid might be true and there’s no easy way to verify, you can quickly get taken out. “The world doesn’t owe you, you owe the world” is like that. It may sound harsh but it’s true, technically, that the world doesn’t owe you anything. It’s not that we don’t deserve love and nurture throughout our lives; it’s just that “the world” doesn’t “owe” it to us. But, the opposite is also true: we don’t actually owe the world anything, either. We didn’t ask to be here, for no one can will himself or herself into existence and we didn’t ask for this world that we have. To say the world doesn’t owe you, you owe the world is akin to saying “service is the rent you pay your being on this planet:” it names the motivation for serving others and giving of yourself as fear and makes such service transactional.
When we serve others because we are trying to make up for our own existence, we not only objectify those others into means by which we fulfill some personal obligation. We also practice a false humility because we fail to recognize the absolute freedom with which God loves and chooses us. God freely created each of us and knew us before we were born; if we were formed in such freedom, why then should our lives be about the bondage of paying back the “debt” that supposedly is our lives? When we start using the language of “owing” in connection with service, we make the calling and privilege of self-giving about guilt. I can’t think of a deeper way to insult the Lord of love than to make the wild mystery of life in God’s creation about keeping score or balancing a ledger. God gives life freely, Jesus laid down His life freely, yet we are to turn around and make our lives about repayment?
Don’t get me wrong: I am not knocking serving others. I believe that Jesus revealed the true heart of God when He knelt down, as the Lord God’s self, to wash His disciples’ feet and that this is not merely an “example” we are follow but how we are truly human. Service is imperative to Christian life and I don’t mean in the religious sense. I don’t think you can know God or the One God sent without being wiling to serve. But doing so out of guilt or fear or to appease God as if God is some creditor who you “owe” something to is to cheapen the life God lives in you and the life God lives in others. It is surely to miss the joy the Lord takes in living such life. The world does not owe you and you do not owe the world. To think that you do puts you in the position of having to apologize for your existence every day. But God had no obligation to create any of us; God did so and daily upholds our existence out of deep love we can only taste in this world we do not owe but are invited to freely enjoy, love and serve.