Should Christians support cancelling student loan debt?
I can’t believe I’m writing this. This policy idea is totally counter to the way I think things should work. At the same time, I can see how some think a case could be made for it.
What issue am I talking about? It’s the recent plan by Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren to forgive college student debt in America.
Her latest proposal is to have the government pay off up to $50,000 dollars of student debt. Now, before I get into what the Bible says about debt, it is fair to say that the government cannot technically pay off anything. It has no resources to sell, so it can only use the money given in order to buy or pay off debt.
That being said, I think we can set aside the specific proposal about student loan debt, and think about the larger issue of debt, in general, and what the Bible has to say about it.
It’s almost impossible to live without debt today. We have mortgages and car loans that seem to be just a normal part of life. I personally don’t think a home mortgage is sinful, but we do need to wrestle with verses like Rom. 13:8 which says, “Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love on another.”
Although this verse does not outright declare all debt bad, the Book of Proverbs does tell us that debt is a form of slavery. Prov. 22:7 says, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” So we can see that the Bible does not speak highly of debt. Yet it also tells us how we should behave when we loan people money.
Matt. 5:22 speaks on this subject and reads, “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” Also there is this incredible verse from Prov. 28:8 which states, “Whoever increases wealth by taking interest or profit from the poor amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor.” This states that those who make money off of high interest loans that keep people poor will lose their money, and it will be given back to the poor.
There are countless other verses that talk about how we should deal with this subject. We are told we should be generous and loan without expecting anything in return. However, these are not the main place to make our argument for loan forgiveness. For that we would need to turn to the Old Testament.
In Leviticus 25-26 God describes what can be called a total economic restart every seven years. All debt was to be forgiven. Every 49 years was the year of Jubilee when all debt was forgiven, and the land was allowed to reset itself as well. In both cases, debt forgiveness was foundational to the societal structure. .
It’s hard to simply take this idea and graft it into our modern society. The Jewish people knew that every seven years their debt would be forgiven, so loans had limits.
For example, if you borrowed to buy some land, a portion of your crops would be given to the loaner for seven years at a rate that was sufficient to pay off that loan in that amount of time. This meant that the borrower would celebrate the debt cancelation but not because they got away with free money, but because they had faithfully paid off their debt. These restrictions kept people from giving out loans that had payments spread out over a long period of time.
The number of years you can stretch out the life of your car and home loan continues to increase. This means you are likely to be upside down in your loan especially when it comes to a vehicle. Yes, you might not be able to buy as nice of a house or drive the newest car if you went with a shorter term, but you would not be a slave to your lender. If you have ever had to spend years paying off a student loan or credit card debt, you know the weight and stress that comes with it. God does not want us to carry such unnecessary burdens.
I think the Bible makes a good argument for debt forgiveness, but it also makes a strong case for loan limitations. The burden may be on the person who took out the loan, but the guilt is also on the one who makes money off the ignorance and desperation of others.
If you have a child who is about to enter into college, allow me to make a suggestion that could save you in the long run. Community colleges are a great place of learning and are a fraction of the cost of major universities.
Begin to teach your children about finances long before they enter into college and educate them on the other possibilities such as a trade school or online degree programs. Not only will they get a good education but they will also be free of the yoke of debt that is crushing so many people right now.