Going into debt can be something that enriches a person’s life because it allows him or her to purchase somewhere to live. But going into debt can also be something that ruins a life, because if it is out of control it brings fear and despair.
The Bible has a surprisingly large number of references to debt. This suggests that it is an age-old problem and that people have always turned to God to know what the right thing to do is. However, the Bible does not explicitly forbid borrowing or encourage it. There is condemnation for those who get rich by exploiting other peoples’ debts, and God’s people are urged to help those who in any kind of financial difficulty to find stability. There are repeated warnings to be cautious, so Christians have usually had the attitude that they should only borrow money moderately and with a plan for how the money will be paid back.
Being in debt to someone is described as a kind of slavery in the Bible, and God’s intention for the human beings that he loves is that they should be free. Those who have got themselves into overwhelming debt, whether it is by misfortune or foolishness, recognise the description of debt as slavery. Christians have a long tradition of working alongside those who are burdened by debt to help them find a way of emerging from the distress they are in.
Christian organisations that help people overwhelmed by debt usually follow a four stage process:
Friendship and support that is non-judgmental, just as the friendship of Jesus was;
Negotiating a budget so that people to whom money is owed can receive payments while the person in debt has enough money to live on;
Setting up a simple account so that payment of debts and bills is organised;
Staying loyal to people who need help through the entire process until the debt is cleared.
There are no circumstances in which emerging from serious debt is effortless. But going through it with someone who will support and pray for you at every stage means that it is not impossible. Christians attempt to bring the love and generosity of God into every way they respond to debt.
Christians Against Poverty is a national UK debt counselling charity, and at their website you can begin the process of finding the help and hope you need to make your way out of debt: www.capuk.org
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’
Where to find it:
About these words:
From a letter containing advice to Christians in the years after Jesus lived. They include a challenge to avoid debt by being content, and a reassurance that those in debt can find strength from God to address their difficulty.
And they said…
Margaret, writing about the impact of being enabled by Christians Against Poverty to control and pay off her debts:
Following the break up of my marriage after fifteen years, I was over £30,000 in debt, disabled and sick. I was depressed and frightened, feeling guilty at being unable to control my own finances. My caseworker immediately calmed me and was very caring, patient and utterly open-minded. He didn’t judge me, and he told me to stop feeling guilty … The pressure lifted enough for me to breathe, and helped me realise that I could afford to live. Many, many thanks from my whole family for lifting the burden without any guilt.
Dave Ramsey, North American journalist, financial advisor and preacher:
Debt is normal. Be weird.
Native American Indian proverb:
Before borrowing money from a friend, decide which you need most.
Paul Clitheroe, Australian broadcaster and financial analyst:
There are plenty of ways to get ahead. The first is so basic I’m almost embarrassed to say it: Spend less than you earn.
Mr Wilkins Micawber, in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield:
My other piece of advice … Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene and, in short you are for ever floored. As I am!