Everyone’s talking about debt these days. And so they should, for it’s a critical issue.
But is debt a bad thing? Is it reasonable to say that there’s good debt and bad debt?
Good debt seems to me to be manageable – a mortgage is hopefully a manageable debt if we’re not encouraged to borrow too much, and if we don’t lose our job.
I discovered years ago that it was cheaper to borrow to buy a newer car than continually pay repairs on an older model while saving for the next one.
But for that you’ll need a good credit rating so often the poor lose out. Lending can be a system that looks after those most able to look after themselves.
Then there’s the scourge of the credit card and the temptation for people to max out on their cards and find they owe huge sums, often frittered away on bad choices.
Thrown into the hands of loan sharks, life quickly goes from bad to worse. Debt can be a killer.
The United Kingdom gives aid to poorer countries, much of which has been good and has addressed life-critical issues such as health and education.
But might we have done better to focus on job creation, through loans rather than grants?
Last summer was dominated by the Greek debt crisis – mind-boggling sums of money owed by a country that seems to have little hope of repaying them without denying reasonable services to a whole generation.
Who’s to blame? The Greek people for not paying enough in taxes? Their leaders for gross incompetence? The lenders for allowing such loans to be taken without asking the right questions about the ability to repay?
Then there are the banks. New legislation has separated high street and investment operations, but if you want banks to be more ethical, are you prepared for your pension fund to offer lower returns? Yes, you and I might be poorer.
These issues are complex, and they do help us see that applying a Christian mind to issues of debt is not an easy thing.
Don’t make the mistake of applying simplistic biblical lessons from proof texts: Should we really sell our possessions and have all things in common? Save me from the commune please!
You’ll look to the Bible in vain if you want it to tell you whether to belong to political parties left, right or centrist. Capitalism or socialism? Proof texts for each!
And you won’t find anything telling you not to borrow. What about “neither a borrower nor a lender be”? Try Shakespeare!
And that is the key here. I suspect that the biblical principles will revolve around the timeless truths of loving God (not mammon) and neighbor rather than banking systems.
The command to be selfless, to help people in need, to think less of ourselves than we might – these are fundamental kingdom principles with real economic implications.
You’ll find teaching about planning wisely and not assuming the future is predictable, for you or for others. Biblical teaching about the justice of God will dictate how we should live in any economic system.
One thing is for sure. Our current system isn’t working for billions of people. If we can get this right, future generations will be in our debt and, for once, that will be a good thing.
David Kerrigan is general director of BMS World Mission. A version of this article first appeared in Issue 4 2015 edition of Mission Catalyst where other articles on this theme may also be found. It is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidKerrigan3.