If I had one follow-up question on my original article that asked the question is the borrower slave to the lender, my question would have been – what’s the point? Craig, what are you trying to say? What is the application? Honestly, until I read all the comments, I don’t know if I could have answered that question. I was just thinking on paper. However, I’m slowly starting to develop a point.
The point – In today’s culture, saying “A debt = slavery” is melodramatic.
The Bible does not promote the notion of debt. Nor does it forbid borrowing. I think the best way to summarize what the Bible has to say is a debt is an obligation.
Deut. 28:43-44 highlights a rise to domination. A part of the rise to domination will include lending. On the flip side, it seems like the demise will come from more and more borrowing. In the process of borrowing, we sink lower and lower into subjection.
The alien who lives among you will rise above you higher and higher, but you will sink lower and lower. He will lend to you, but you will not lend to him. He will be the head, but you will be the tail. (Deuteronomy 28:43-44 NIV)
A debt is an obligation. One obligation, appropriately in line with your income, is not slavery.
During the Biblical times, when you borrowed it was because you had nothing (no equity/no collateral), and thus one debt could result in slavery. When the collector came to collect that debt, if you didn’t have the money you could be (literally) enslaved.
Today, however, people borrow for many reasons. Often, with only one debt, if someone were to collect they could sell something to cover the debt.
The problem is today one can stack and accumulate too many debts. With each debt, you lose a bit of freedom. At some point you inevitably come to a place where you can be enslaved (in a way) to the debtor. You have lost your ability to make decisions over your personal assets.
Borrowing is an obligation that, if continued excessively, can result in a type of servitude, but never, in my opinion, slavery.
The issue is ultimately how much freedom one still possesses when they borrow.
On the line below, a first debt is at the far left – an obligation. The more debts you take, the further you move to the right. Eventually, you can come to a place of servitude with your debt, but I’m personally uncomfortable saying in our current culture you can ever come to a place of slavery. I believe that slaves are stripped of almost all their freedom to make choices. People with massive amounts of debt today can still choose where and when to work, how many kids they have, their spouse, the location of their house (even those in Section 8 housing get to choose their actual apartment building), who they want to be President (or Prime Minister) … I find it difficult to call that slavery. Servitude yes, slavery no.
Obligation Servitude Slavery
Even the Bible highlights different eras of slavery (as the Bible covers several thousands of years of history). In the simplest terms, slavery is an almost complete removal of rights. I think people with debts will never come to a point where so many of their rights and freedoms could be removed that its should be called slavery. Clearly, in both the NT and OT, a person could be in prison because of debts. Even that is not slavery. Slavery is when someone owns your freedom. You can not choose to work. You cannot continue family life. You have no means necessary to control your current situation. We can experience servitude today, but not slavery.
In this case, we would need to ask the question: if I have credit card debt, what freedoms or personal rights can Visa remove? As far as I understand it, they can demand that you pay what you owe plus other fees you have agreed to. They can even get a court order and garnish your wages, but they still have not removed any personal rights – have they?
In my case, I do have a house loan. I think it would be completely inappropriate to say that I am in slavery. I don’t think a biblical writer would ever indicate that I’m in slavery. The debt is proportional to my income and it is small enough that it doesn’t affect any decisions of consequence. However, if I started getting more and more debts, I could eventually get to a point where I could no longer afford to live on a missionary salary. I would then be required to serve my debt instead of my God.
Multiple debts do lead to a type of slavery – better called servitude. Alright, now we’re starting to get on the same page. It is a fine distinction, yes, but at least Christians won’t be petrified if they want to go out and get a car payment. Look, getting a car payment makes absolutely no mathematical sense. I don’t do car payments. But, if someone in my church has no other debts and gets a car payment, I can’t in good conscience say they are in slavery. I can’t say that car payment will be their master. I can’t say God is shaking his head in heaven. I will say they have made an obligation that they must keep.
Yet, to be fair, in the words of my precious wife – it’s all just semantics – and perhaps she’s right (she usually is).
The rich rule over the poor
The passage in Proverbs 22:7 is written using a literary technique called parallelism. With parallelism, the two parts either highlight the other, accentuate the other, or are even just rewording of the other part. Proverbs is full of statements written parallel to each other. Here’s the problem. Google “the borrower is slave to the lender” and you’re going to get a lot of hits about bloggers, preachers, writers, and financial gurus who are devoting their passionate attention to this second part of the statement. However, Google “the rich rule over the poor” and after a few online Bibles that include this passage, you’ll finally get to a few articles about the injustice of the rich ruling over the poor. Shouldn’t we be as passionate about both parts of this passage? Shouldn’t we talk about the destructive nature of debt and also the injustice the wealthy hold over the poor?
If there was any point to the post, I guess that was it.