By Joe Tolton
As a Millennial saddled with a massive amount of student loan debt, I find relief just thinking about the Jubilee year described in Deuteronomy 15. What a hopeful concept! All of our debt could be wiped away after just seven years. The Jubilee year among the Israelites had merit. Jubilee years kept the disparity in society from getting too great. This helped people to bond and kept the society from breaking down into those who had money and those who owed the money. Inequalities in the distribution of wealth were not so much that forgiveness of the debt would be too costly for anyone. Lenders were to use a zero-interest system either for the poor (Leviticus 25:35-37, Exodus 22:25) or for all of the people in the country (Leviticus 25:35-37, Deuteronomy 23:19-20, Ezekiel 22:12).
The scripture verses here and in other places acknowledge that a burden of debt can become spiritually and emotionally debilitating, not just a practical aspect of life. The caution of Proverbs 22:7 is that a borrower becomes a slave to the lender.
We have moved away from the kind of society that would have considered a Jubilee year to one where the poor are disregarded and preyed upon. Our whole society is taking a more predatory approach to finance on all levels. There is a larger disparity between those who lend and those who borrow than ever before. This is the sort of time in the Bible when the great prophets arise.
The financial industry now depends on debt to survive. The divide between the haves and have nots of this world has become wider and less likely to be bridged . Money has become equated with power, skewing our decision making from practical solutions that offer compassion and grace, to ideas that make sense just for those who earn the most money in the economy today. Those who can afford to lend the money end up making most of the decisions, including the health and welfare decisions of the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick in our society. It skews our government, and taints our way of thinking as a society.
Individually debt becomes a guilt-ridden area for many, and, for most, a source of shame. Personal debt can pile up pretty quickly: not just student loans, but car loans, home loans, and payday loans. Credit cards, a form of short-term loan called revolving credit, can be worst of all.
Jesus cautions us to plan for the future and count well the cost of what we are about to do. In Luke 14, Jesus compares looking to the future to planning to build a tower, making sure you budget for all of the levels of the building project. He also talked about the prudence of the king considering the consequences of going to war. Sometimes in the worst financial situations, we may not get our dreams fulfilled. We may have to negotiate and settle for less. While living without regard to our debts may make us think we are living more freely, the costs of it are more harmful than interest rates and credit scores show.
There is a spiritual reason that Psalm 37 calls us to repay our loans and that Proverbs 22:26-27 and Romans 13:8 caution against getting ourselves in debt. As Christians, we need to do our best to live up to our word, but also offer ourselves the grace that God has given us. As Christians in a society we need to work for better practices when it comes to debt and debt collection.
About the Author
Joseph Tolton is the Office Manager of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. He serves as co-pastor of West Elkton Friends Meeting of West Elkton, Ohio and is an ordained minister through the South/Central Indiana District of the Church of the Brethren. He holds a Master of Divinity from Bethany Theological Seminary and a BA in Communication from Hope College of Holland, MI.
This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS Initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.