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The United States is a country who puts on its currency, “In God We Trust.” Yet, the US is heavily in debt.  Is debt bad?  Do we really trust God? This study will look at what our Bible says about debt.

Where did it all start?

In September 1789, Alexander Hamilton, then-Secretary of the Treasury, negotiated terms with the Bank of New York and the Bank of North America to borrow $19,608.81 (about $600,000 in today’s dollars) to address shortfalls within the U.S. budget. This was the first time that the United States spent more than it took in and created a National Debt. If the federal government spends more than it receives as tax revenue in any given fiscal year, it adds to the National Debt 1. If revenues are greater than spending, the government can use the surplus to pay down some of the existing national debt. The two ways to reduce debt are to increase taxes or reduce spending, both of which impact economic growth. How have we done? There is the National Debt Clock. Since it changes minute by minute, there is no way to publish an amount. Trust me here, it does not go down, only up!

Who does the US owe money to?

Two groups hold US debt,  the government itself and the public 2.

U.S. national debt is the sum of these two federal debt categories:

  • Public debt, held by other countries (Japan and China are the largest holders), the Federal Reserve, mutual funds, and other entities and individuals. Those who have loaned the US government this money expect to be paid back “with interest.”
  • Intragovernmental holdings, held by Social Security, Military Retirement Fund, Medicare, and other retirement funds. This is money the citizenry has given to the US government to use for specific purposes but our leaders have “dipped in,” and loaned itself funds with the “promise of repayment” back to the citizenry for the original purposes that it was intended. If the payments are not made to those funds, there are only two options: tax the citizenry and make them pay again; or break the original commitments and cut the promised benefits.

God, Himself, has an opinion on debt. Since you are both a lender to the US government and a debtor of the obligations made by the US government, you should take the time to be familiar with God’s views. The impact of the national debt can only be fully understood by comparing the current debt against the federal government’s ability to pay it this off. The debt-to-GDP (Gross National Product) ratio does this by dividing a nation’s debt by its gross domestic product. GDP is sort of our country’s income. It is no different that your income when considering your credit score and ability to repay what you may borrow. The current US debt to GDP ratio is over 100% 3. That means the US owes more than it takes in, and it is never a good position to be in. The U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio has been above 100 percent since 2013. Most investors get worried when it approaches 80%.

The question Is whether debt this really a bad thing?

Clearly when we mortals purchase things like a personal home, it is sometimes necessary to carry debt over and above our annual income, many times carrying a debt for a lifetime.  In those cases, we never really own our home, the lender retains title. However, there are some historical and biblical lessons that are important. Not all debt is bad, especially when there is a plan to pay it off and the purpose of the debt is consistent with Godly values. There is an expectation that income and debt will be managed and controlled.

History gives us our starting point

By the end of the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years War), the interest payments on Britain’s national debt exceeded half of the British Government’s annual budget. To pay the debt, King George III imposed heavy taxes and suffocating regulations burdening its 13 colonies to repay Britain’s debt. What followed was our American Revolution.

(Proverbs 22:7) 4 – “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.”

The first point of Biblical knowledge concerning debt is that it must be paid back and that until it is, the lenders have power over the borrowers. This is especially true when the lenders have armies. No where in our world’s recorded history has this claim ever been disputed. Debt must always be paid back and until it is, the debtor is a slave to the lender. It took war to remove Great Britain’s rule over America to stop the burdensome taxation and break King George’s chains of bondage. What happens, however, if a government defaults on its own promises. Lenders will stop lending and can you imagine  if the US defaults on its own citizenry. For example, if all of the retirement savings were consumed and not given back to the people? Armageddon!

(Proverbs 23:7) – “The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously;”

You will find nothing in Scripture that says defaulting on a commitment is OK with God. It is plain, God expects everyone to uphold their oath and God expects our leaders to repay all debts. Because we are all part of this country, we all carry both the oath and obligations of US debt and carry those obligations both as lenders and borrowers.  These are called risks. However, the national debt remains our debt, our children’s debt, and our grandchildren’s debt. Currently, your debt (risk) is approximately $84,000 per citizen or $159,000 per working taxpayer (In 1790, Hamilton’s debt in today’s dollars was 17 cents per citizen). In essence, that is the sum of what we have loaned our government as well as what our government has borrowed from foreign powers as obligations. Remember God’s rule, ALL DEBT MUST BE REPAID!

(Ecclesiastes 5:5) – “It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it.”

Through the democratic process of elections, we appoint representatives. God does not accept our “washing of hands,” on the issue of debt. God holds each citizen accountable to the “oath” that those representatives place us under. Regardless of labels of conservative or liberal or party affiliations of democratic or republican, each citizen is obligated to the debts occurred by those representatives. God expects us to manage our lives and choices accordingly. God expects us to choose our representatives wisely. Remember, our God does not take default of an oath to repay a loan lightly.

(Proverbs 22:26-27) – “Do not be one who shakes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts; if you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you.”

God also loves a generous heart. Everyone is expected to be generous, not by obligating others to debt but being charitable by way of their own “Heart,” by way of personal choice and responsibility. In the Bible, we find the story of a woman named Dorcas, or Tabitha, introduced as one known for her care of widows and her provisions of clothing for the poor. As a widow herself, she lived in the town of Joppa, a city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Dorcas was well-off and was loved by the townspeople. When she became ill and died, they called for the Apostle Peter. Peter took Dorcas by the hand and brought her back from the dead.

(Acts 9:36-42) – In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” Peter went with them, and when he arrived, he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.

That is how our God can use a simple act of charity to build His kingdom. Dorcas is just one example in our Bible of how we are to meet the needs of those around us. Christians are to “continue to remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10). James, Jesus’ half-brother, is quoted in (James 1:27) “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” This was the type of religion Dorcas practiced. It is how the Body of Christ functions. Charity is not to be subcontracted to a government but owned by each of us. The question each must ask is whether the national debt is for God’s work or building worldly kingdoms? Is concern for each other really driving our debt?

(1 Corinthians 12:25–26) – “so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

(Roman 13:8) – “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”

So what is God’s opinion of our national debt?

(Isaiah 10:1-4) – “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches? Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.”

Contemplations

  • The role of government as defined in our Constitution is to “promote the general welfare.” What does that mean to you?
    • Ideas to Explore: Does this mean that government is to create and protect our citizenry so that a free people can create their own opportunity for success themselves? If so, how, if not, why not? Think about what monies are spent for support of foreign enemies, waste, and corruption, and think about what is spent for the “widows, orphans, and people in distress.” Are the priorities set correctly? Who sets our government spending priorities?
  • Do you consider your fair share of the national debt something you are willing to sacrifice for and pay off?
    • Ideas to Explore: Some of the debt is for helping others, much of the debt is for things most people do not care about. Is the debt being used to keep people in power or help people?
  • What were you taught about debt?
    • Ideas to Explore: Do you believe that the National Debt is your responsibility to solve? Are we passing financial knowledge on to our children or just the debt?
  • Does the National Debt risk the welfare and freedoms of our country?
    • Ideas to Explore: As government removes rights and privileges, how sure are you that religion, your right to worship, for example, is not in jeopardy? Is government spending for national security a reasonable priority?  What other areas of government should be funded even if the US needs to borrow money?
  • What should citizens of the US do about the National Debt?
    • Ideas to Explore: The options are to ignore it, pay it off, put the country on a balanced budget to retire the debt. How would you implement your plan? What needs to change? How will you change?
  • What do you think Jesus’ brother James meant when he said: “to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
    • Ideas to Explore: Are we to be happy with less so that we can be more generous? Do people have “too much stuff?” Is media creating a consumer driven economy that goes against the teachings of God?
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