The God who is infinite
In Matthew 18, Jesus asks us to put ourselves in the place of the servant who owed his master 10,000 talents. To think about how much this is, consider the fact that in that day one talent represented about 20 years’ wages (ESV note on Matthew 18:24). Thus, 10,000 talents represents about 200,000 years’ wages. In today’s terms, if a yearly wage is $15,000 (this guy was a slave, after all), then 200,000 years’ wages = $3,000,000,000. There is no way the servant could pay his master back. (Actually, the Gk word for “ten thousand” is the word from which we get “myriad.” The emphasis here is not so much on the exact amount, but the fact he owed a LOT of money. If the ten thousand amount is not enough to impress you, you may substitute any sufficiently large number.)
Now suppose that the other servant who owed 100 denarii (in modern monetary units, this would be about $2000) to the servant who owed 3 billion dollars came to him and offered to pay his debt for him. Such an offer would be meaningless; after all, he was having a hard time paying off the much smaller debt! He just didn’t have the resources to do it. In fact, it’s obvious that no other servant would be able to help this guy out.
On the other hand, the master was able to forgive the servant. How? Not only because he was the one to whom the money was owed, but more importantly, because he evidently had enough resources to absorb the loss. Not too many businessmen, even if they are billionaires, can absorb this kind of loss. You would have to be unimaginably wealthy to absorb a loss like this.
We know from the parable that the master represents God, and we the indebted servant. When Jesus originally told the parable, the point was forgiveness. God forgives our sins against him, so we should forgive the sins of others against us. But another lesson we can draw from this parable is the fact that God has unimaginable resources, resources that no one else can even come close to having. God is so impossibly great that a 10,000 talent loss is nothing to him. Infinity minus a trillion is still infinity.
And we are the servant with the 10,000 talent debt. Our indebtedness is not monetary, however. We have accumulated this debt in a myriad of ways, and it expresses itself in another myriad of ways. Our indebtedness and its consequences are as numerous as the sins we commit. The marks of our sins are evident in the selfishness of our hearts and the misery that this spawns in our own lives and the lives of others. It has led to our own bondage and the bondage of our spouses and children.
Our indebtedness is not something we can just shrug away. It follows us everywhere we go, even if we try to avoid and deny it. The specter of its shadow hovers over every thought and deed. Its consequences show up in every war and disease and famine and tsunami and earthquake. And ultimately, the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).
God is the master with limitless resources and we are the servant with the impossible-to-pay-back debt. What the Bible says elsewhere is that God is the only being in the universe with the quality of infinite resources. Just as the indebted servant could not look to his fellow servants for help in relieving the indebtedness, even so we would not be able to find another being in the universe that can save us from our indebtedness to God.
Every human being in some sense is trying to flee the shadow of the death, the consequences of their sin. We are all flying from misery out of a longing for happiness. What the Bible tells us to do is to pursue this longing in God. Salvation in Jesus Christ is the cancelling of our debt. And he is the only one who can do this. When we try to find salvation in someone or something other than God, we are like the Israelites whom God condemned in Jeremiah 2:11-13:
"Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water."
Compared to God, everything is just a broken cistern. It tries to hold water, but in the end our hopes leak out into hopelessness.
This is the reason we need to have before our minds and hearts the reality of who God is. If we are not continually reminded that God is the only one with infinite resources, the only one who can cancel our debt, then we will try to find salvation in broken cisterns. You forsake the fountain of living waters before you turn to broken cisterns.