We all know when debt becomes a problem, whether it’s in our personal lives or in the global financial system. It’s when you can’t pay it back.
But what about the routine, manageable debt that’s a part of everyday life? The kind we take on without really thinking about it? After all, if you want to buy a house, you can’t do it without a mortgage. Or the student loan that paid for university. Or the clothes and shopping you needed to put on your credit card, because the money wasn’t in your current account at the right time. Or the four-figure overdraft the bank gave you – without asking – that actually turns out to be pretty handy from time to time.
The banks and credit card companies tell us that this kind of debt is good. It’s a way of bringing forward tomorrow’s spending to today. It gives you choices you wouldn’t otherwise have. There’s even a credit card called the ‘Freedom’ card (and no, this isn’t product endorsement).
Debt is normal. More than that, it’s unavoidable. And except in the worst cases, we’ve generally swallowed that line.
We are the only generation in history to see debt as a convenience. Previous generations have avoided it wherever possible. In the Bible, taking a loan was a last-ditch solution to living in utter poverty. Jesus repeatedly used debt as an image for sin. It was scary. No-one went into debt lightly.
Why? Because debt enslaves us. In the worst cases it keeps us locked into a state of never-ending poverty. Even smaller debts, or lower interest rates, have a serious impact – and the average adult owes more than they earn in a year. “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7).
Not only that. The Bible recognises that financial poverty tends to go hand-in-hand with a different kind of poverty. It’s the marginalised, those without the support of friends and families and their communities, who are most likely to be in the worst debt – and debt prevents us from engaging properly with others, too. No wonder the Bible saw charging interest as so wrong: debt is toxic to our relationships as well as our bank balances.
In a world that’s set up to guide us into debt at the earliest opportunity, there aren’t many easy answers to this one. But if Christians are supposed to be distinctive, and if we’re called to be good stewards of the resources we’re given, then this is something we need to start thinking differently about.
How can Christians be distinctive and good stewards of the resources we’re given? Should we be doing things differently? Feel free to share your thoughts below!
(Image via Tristan Martin on flickr)