How Should a Christian Feel About Debt Forgiveness?

There’s been a lot of talk recently about a movement in the United States government to reduce or altogether forgive student debt. For those not familiar with student debt, it is incurred when a student borrows money to fund higher education. Historically, students have been left to repay this money once their education was over just like any other debt. However, a recent plan would see the U.S. government forgive that debt by absorbing it.  

How should a Christian feel about debt forgiveness? Many Christians have taken to social media discussing the lack of fairness and/or foresight in the government’s plans for debt forgiveness. Some have noted that there is no such thing as debt forgiveness; instead, what is happening is debt transference, that is, debt is being transferred from student borrowers to the American public. Others have noted the lack of fiscal responsibility in any plan to add to an already bulging national debt to absorb student debt. Still others have decried the unfairness of the arrangement. “Why should we be responsible for the debt of others?” and “Why should their debt be forgiven when I never incurred student debt / paid my student debt back myself?” are common complaints.

It should be said that God’s wisdom guides His people away from debt whenever possible. “The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower is servant to the lender” the Proverb states (Proverbs 22:7). When debt is incurred, it is to be repaid both in keeping with God’s standard of honesty (Matthew 5:37) and the law of love:

“Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:7-8).

God doesn’t forbid debt, but He would certainly forbid a person from entering into a debt arrangement with no intention of paying it off.

The question at hand though isn’t whether God’s people should incur debt or even whether they should pay it off if they do. The question is, “How should a Christian feel about debt forgiveness?” The answer is simple: not only should they embrace this concept, but they should also thank God that it exists.

Let me explain. When a person chooses to sin against God, which every accountable person has done, he or she has incurred a debt which is impossible to pay in any restorative sense: death (Romans 3:23; 6:23). God chose to do something incredible though: He chose to pay for that debt at great cost to Himself by sending His Son to cancel sin’s debt and forgive it with His blood (John 3:16; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:13-14). In the words of Paul, “He [God] made Him who knew no sin [Jesus] to be sin [a sin offering or payment] for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Was it fair for Jesus to pay our debt? Of course not, and yet He did. Debt forgiveness is something for which every Christian should thank God every single day.

Having said all of that, let me address the issue at hand. How should a Christian feel about governmental debt forgiveness? While I have no intention of venturing too far into the realm of politics, I would think that the above observations from Scripture would yield two very different thoughts. On the one hand, as a people who have experienced debt forgiveness in a much more profound way, we as Christians should be happy for any who experience it in this lesser way. The Bible encourages Christians to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15), and it’s hard to imagine debt forgiveness having any other effect on the indebted than to produce rejoicing. On the other hand, it is natural to be fearful of the reality that current plans for debt forgiveness in the United States in particular are setting aside Biblical principles of money management. While Jesus could forgive the debt of sin by drawing from His “unsearchable riches” (Ephesians 3:8), the U.S. government currently intends to forgive debt simply by plunging itself further into debt.

Let me temper that last and much more troubling thought though. The fact is that the God who forgave our sins in Jesus Christ is the same God who is responsible for the existence of every government, including the one in the United States (Romans 13:1). God’s appointment of government is of course not the same as His approval of government, but the fact is that all that any government does is under the watchful eye of God. No matter what may come of the micro issue of student debt forgiveness or the macro issue of the national debt, God is in control and rest assured: He “knows how to deliver the godly” and how to make it so “that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (2 Peter 2:9).

In the meantime, Christians, let us, “Do all things without complaining and disputing” (Philippians 2:14). Let us never complain about being called to forgive the debt of another whether in terms of sin or of money (Matthew 5:42; 6:12-15; 18:21-35; Luke 6:38; Ephesians 4:28; 1 Timothy 6:18-19). For those of us in the United States, we are certainly free to participate in the political process through public discourse and voting, but let’s do so without entangling ourselves in “the affairs of this life” (2 Timothy 2:4) or losing sight of our responsibility to shine as lights for God (Matthew 5:16; Philippians 2:15-16). At the end of the day, we must “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's” (Mark 12:17) and determine to “submit [ourselves] to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake” (1 Peter 2:13).

In short, let’s thank God for debt forgiveness in general, practice money management and debt repayment to whatever extent we can, pray for our rulers and for God to exercise oversight over them in keeping with what’s best for the cause of salvation (1 Timothy 2:1-4), and seek to forgive as many of our debtors as possible (Matthew 6:12).
-Patrick Swayne