Living in debt or out of debt

Given that the Apostle Paul reminded Timothy that the love of money is the root of all evil, he would not be impressed by our public worship of borrowing and debt today.  The statistics are scary: people in the UK owed £1.452 trillion at the end of September 2015. This is up from £1.418 trillion in September 2014 – an extra £661.50 per UK adult.  Total credit card debt in September was a mind blowing £62.7billion. Per household this is £2,349.  For a credit card bearing the average interest, it would take over 25 years to repay if only the minimum monthly repayment was made.  (Figures supplied by The Money Charity). At a recent conference organised by the Presbyterian Church, Dr. Michael Schluter CBE, (founder of the Jubilee Centre), along with his colleague Dr Paul Mills offered a radically different approach to both personal and public finance based on the teaching of the Old Testament, and drawing out the need for good relationships in all financial matters.  In amongst all the complex economic theory, one particular theme made a huge impact on me, the implications of which I am still trying to work out for day to day living, both personally and within the fellowship of God’s people. His thesis is that lending is encouraged for the benefit of the borrower in need; that debts must be honoured if at all possible; yet the repaying of those debts should never lead to the borrower being degraded or humiliated.   Even more counter-cultural is the broad principle that when we lend, we should not charge interest (Deut 23. 19-20). Indeed the Psalms make it clear that people who honour God will be blessed as they lend!  Psalm 37.26 ‘(The righteous ..) are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed.’ Such teaching is utterly at odds with what many of us, Christian people included, regard as normal and acceptable. We borrow readily on our credit cards at eye watering rates of interest, which may satisfy today’s desires, but which are clearly for the benefit of the lender.  For example, the credit card rates of many of our major stores are currently in the 19% - 30% range, whilst savings rates are hovering around 1.5% - 3%.  We appear to see little or no problem with this. Why are we so reluctant to be personal lenders to those in need – even those within the fellowship of the church?  We will give generously to those in need across the world (and we should), yet back away from offering an interest free loan (or even an outright gift) to the brother in need down the road and in our church. Is it too much to say that too many of us have been seduced by the love of money and the buying of things?   The God dis-honouring result is that we no longer value the support and expressions of fellowship that can be given by the much more open hearted and open handed attitude to money that is so potently taught in Scripture. The handling of my finances needs a serious Biblical overhaul. Yours too? Norman Hamilton. Rev Norman Hamilton OBE is a retired Presbyterian minister and is currently chair of the Public Affairs Council of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
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One Response to Living in debt or out of debt

  1. Dermot O'Callaghan says:

    There are some challenging lessons in Norman Hamilton’s piece which I try to live up to in daily life. For example, I have a direct debit which pays off my credit card bill each month and forces me to ensure that I have enough in my bank account so as not to go overdrawn (I don’t have an overdraft facility).
    I have two friends who have fallen on straitened times and I have lent them money which they are paying back as best they can over a period of years. These loans are interest free, but I find myself in disagreement with Norman’s reference to ‘the broad principle that when we lend, we should not charge interest (Deut 23. 19-20).’ Reading v19 one might reasonably come to that conclusion – ‘Do not charge your brother interest.’ But v20 says, ‘You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a brother Israelite.’ Surely this is about Israelite nation-building rather than a ‘broad principle’ about lending. If there is a broad principle here, it seems to be that a modest rate of interest is indeed justifiable (though not the extortionate rates charged on credit cards).
    Having said that, I hope that we will be generous in extending the love of Christ as best we can to those who are in financial need – whether or not they are ‘fellow Israelites’ – particularly at this Christmastime.
    We should recognise too that the need for at least some degree of welfare reform, which is so easy to oppose in righteous Christian indignation, is the other side of the coin of our obligation to repay the unacceptable levels of debt that successive governments have incurred over the years, often in order to get votes. It is so easy, but morally indefensible, simply to allow these debts to be passed on to the next generation to repay.

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