Debt is an increasingly complex issue which affects people, organisations and countries all over the world. Modern society puts pressure on people to keep up with the latest trends, and companies offer credit deals, making it easier to have what we want straight away. Manageable debt can be helpful but debt spiralling out of control can be disastrous.
‘keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have’.
Debt is not a new problem. Parts of the Bible dating back around 3,000 years have wise words and practical advice about handling money and dealing with debt; words which are still relevant today. In Christian teaching, there is no suggestion that borrowing money is wrong. Jesus told stories about people in debt without sounding critical of them. The key is not to make money a priority. The Bible book, Hebrews, says ‘keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have’.
The Bible book, Proverbs, has several passages about money and debt. It warns people to be cautious about who they do deals with: ‘Do not be a man who strikes hands in a pledge or puts up security for debts; if you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you’. In Christianity, the relationship between the borrower and lender is important. The Bible describes being in debt as a kind of slavery. God loves humanity and it is his intention that people should be free. The Bible teaches that God hates those who get rich by exploiting poorer people. Another passage in Proverbs advises people to save up and be prepared: ‘In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has’.
Borrowing money can be hugely beneficial. For example, getting a mortgage can allow someone to buy somewhere to live. But for some people going into debt can bring despair, even breaking up families and ruining lives. Credit is nothing new in the UK but the nature of debt is changing. Once the main issue was people falling behind with repayments on loans, credit cards or store cards but now more people are struggling with priority debts on mortgages, rent and energy bills. Parents are going without food so that their children can eat. Christians are encouraged to help those who have got into difficulty with money and to be generous with what they have. There is a long history of Christians working alongside people with debt.
Organisations such as Christians Against Poverty provide help and advice for people struggling with the impact of debt. They understand the issues and stick with people until they are debt-free. Foodbanks, which were originally set up by Christians, are providing more and more help for families struggling to pay for basic food and other essentials.
There is a long history of Christians working alongside people with debt.
On a bigger scale, Christians have campaigned against the vast debts which keep some parts of the world in poverty. The Jubilee 2000 campaign, which was founded in the early 1990s, called for the cancellation of Third World debt by the year 2000. The concept of Jubilee comes from the Bible. It occurred every 50th year and was the time when anyone who had sold themselves into slavery to pay a debt was automatically set free. It is estimated that campaigning by Christians and others across the world led to the cancellation of more than $100bn of debt owed by 35 of the world’s poorest countries.