Posted by: Brian Musser | November 13, 2012

Student Loans – A Biblical Response

Recently, I have been posting on the issue of student loan debt within our culture.  I have done two posts outlining the issue.  One, Starting A Discussion on Student Loans, was a statistical analysis of where things are.  The second, Student Loan Debt affecting Recent Graduates, was more of an anecdotal discussion of how student loans are affecting individuals.  Be sure to take part in the poll associated with this post if it applies to you.  The third post, Student Loan Debt – Some Things To Do, was a transition and gave some practical advice for handling student loan debt.  

Today we are going to talk about this topic from a Biblical perspective.  As a Campus Minister, I am a strong advocate for higher education.  Although, I do not believe that college is for everyone, it is an important piece for many of us.  From my personal experience and from watching others go through the college experience, I can confidently say it is the place where many Christians have to the opportunity to fully become who they are supposed to be in Christ.  The Greatest Commandment from the mouth of Jesus includes the concept of loving the Lord with all of our minds.

Matthew 22:37 (NIV) Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

Often we concentrate on the negative aspects of the mind with that verse.  We talk about controlling every thought and not mentally sinning as a way to love the Lord with our minds.  If we move past that thought, we often will go to the devotional aspect of the thought life.  We want to hold the Lord in awe and reverence as much as possible with our minds.  While those are completely correct, I truly believe there is a third aspect to that verse.  We need to mentally develop our minds to the best of its capabilities.  We need to seriously use our minds as well as we can to accomplish as much as we can for the Lord.  We need to become life-long learners.  And the process of being a life-long learner is included in faithful obedience to God.  I believe for many of us our college experience was formative in using our minds to the best of its capabilities in service to God.

Paul adds to this idea that our transformation begins with the renewing of our minds.

Romans 12:2 (NIV) Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

I strongly feel that this renewal not only removes sins but redeems the mind in such a way that we function mentally to the best of our ability thinking great things for God.  No one else has your mind.  No one else will think the thoughts you do.  There is a specific thing that you are supposed to think.  It may be a specific way to communicate the Gospel within your context.  It may be a specific connection between your occupation and Christianity.  It may be a specific mental creation that no one else will create because they do not have your mind.

I know college is not absolutely necessary to fully develop our minds in service of the Lord, however for many of us it has been pivotal piece of the puzzle.  Personally, although I have always been a thinker and a reader, my years at Messiah College, gave me the tools to think well for God.  My college experience is part of me being Christ-like and being fully devoted to God.  At Drexel I have seen this to be true of others even at a secular institution.  With that said I think for many of us avoiding college would have been an act of disobedience.

But…

For many of us, going to college also meant accruing large amounts of debt.  If you have been part of a fiscally conservative church for any considerable amount of time then you have probably encountered the Biblical idea that debt is bad.  A Christian should not be in debt.  So that leaves us with this conundrum:

For recent graduates:  Going to college was huge part of my spiritual journey, however, it put me in debt which is producing a considerable amount of anxiety in my spiritual life.  How do I reconcile the good of my college experience with the bad of my experience of paying for college?

or

For current/perspective students:  I feel that a huge part of me following God’s plan for my life involves a college education but the only way that will happen is through student loans.  How do I achieve the future God has for me in a way that doesn’t mortgage that very future?

Allow me to first discuss issues concerning recent graduates.  (In a later post I will deal with the concerns of perspective students.)  for many recent graduates it is no longer a conversation about whether getting into debt through student loans is a good or bad thing.  It is no longer an option to consider avoiding student loan debt.  You have them and the question is how to handle them.  The advice that most of us want to give about avoiding debt is a moot point for those us in debt.  How should we as Christians already in debt handle the debt that we have?

1.  Debt is not a good thing.

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

The Bible never treats debt as a good thing.  In actuality the writer of Proverbs compares debt to slavery.  Large amounts financial debt can be legitimately seen as a form of economic slavery.  Which is a good way to approach this topic because the Bible has a lot of advice to those who find themselves in slavery.  Many in the early church were slaves.  So how does the Bible advise slaves?

2. Being in debt is not a sin.

1 Corinthians 7:21 (NIV) Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so.

If you are in slavery do not let it trouble you.  If you are in debt do not let it weigh you down with guilt.  You should change the actions that brought you to this place.  If you are in debt because of sinful actions you should repent of those actions and change your ways but the continuation of the debt is not necessarily a continuation of sinfulness in your life.  Although, under many circumstances getting into debt may be a sin, being in debt is not.  Let’s put it this way:  Getting into debt because of a gambling addiction – definitely sinful.  Being in debt because of student loans – not a sin.  But if you can get out of debt by all means do so.  One thing nice about debt, as opposed to slavery,  there are usually very specific and published ways in which you can become debt-free.  Pay what you owe including interest as soon as you can.  Take advantage of any leniency that the lender may offer.

3.  Not paying your debt is a sin.

Psalm 37:21 (NIV) The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously;

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

Your honesty and integrity is on the line.  And when your honesty and integrity is on the line Christ’s name is on the line.  You are a representative for Christ in all that you do even in your financial dealings.  As a Christian you need to pay your debt so that the name of Christ is not defamed.  This does not include specific ways that the lender is willing to forgive your debt (i.e. the available student loan debt forgiveness through specific occupations and volunteering opportunities).  This does not include loan deferment.  (Deferment is a legitimate option offered by lending agencies to help us work through unforeseen financial changes.)  It does include defaulting on a student loan.  (One good way to measure the merits of loan, is through the question of “Is it actually possible to pay it back?”  Speculative borrowing that depends on very specific things to happen for you to pay back a loan should be avoided.)

4. How you handle your debt should be a testimony to God.

Colossians 3:22 (NIV) Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.

1 Timothy 6:1 (NIV) All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.
Many people will say that debt, including student loan debt, limits what you can do for God.  I would say that it focuses what God wants to do through you.  Student loan debt can be a great way for God to work through your finances to create in you a great testimony of handling your money in a Godly way.  Because student loan debt is such a growing issue within our culture, handling it effectively and in a Christ-like manner will be a great tool and testimony to use to connect with others.  We need student loan debt “survivors” to help others, within the church and without, still along the way.  I also really like a suggestion I saw to make as much of a personal connection with a specific account manager at your lender as possible.  At least put a name and voice to your lender and allow your lender to know you instead of just your account number.  It is hard to treat your lender respectfully if your relationship only stays anonymous. It will be easier for God to be glorified through your handling your debt if a specific person at the lending agency knows who you are.

Yesterday, I posted several specific things to do when you have student loan debt.  That post is entitled Student Loan Debt – Some Things To Do.   I recommend checking it our for more specific ways to handle your student loan debt in a Christ-like fashion.

I would love to hear what you have to say.  Please feel free to use the comment section below to discuss.  Do you specific questions about how Scripture applies to student loan debt?  Do you have suggestions for handling it in a Christ-like manner?

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Responses

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  3. I want to share a great internet site that I used to secure a student loan. Their web site is: http://www.studentloanseekers.com They provide one of the largest compilations of student financial loan and grant resources on the web for those that are trying to find financial aid, and their direct private foundation contacts really assisted me.

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  5. The Bible speaks to debt forgiveness and the release of slaves as well, which you don’t reference. Student loans are exempted from bankruptcy claims and are a means to subjecting lower classes aiming for upward mobility to debt peonage. With high DTI, many cannot even buy homes and build equity to pay off debts or take advantage of other opportunities. Our educational economics and failure to invest in the intelligence of our citizens is a moral crisis.


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