In the past several years, there has been an increasing number of demands to cancel student loan debt. With Joe Biden and Kamala Harris now sworn into office, those demands are becoming stronger and louder. The stress and hardship are real, with $1.6 trillion owed in student loans. But is this something that Christians can support in a way that is consistent with Biblical principles?
Let’s first consider what the actual proposals are. Some lawmakers, such as Elizabeth Warren, have called for the cancellation of up to $10,000 in student loan debt as a part of broader COVID economic-relief legislation.
President Joe Biden has discussed even greater cancelation for borrowers who attended public undergraduate institutions, provided the borrower makes less than $125,000 per year.
Senator Chuck Schumer even has suggested that, upon assuming the Oval Office, Biden issue an executive order to cancel student loan debt. (That seems to be far beyond proper presidential powers to me, but that exceeds the scope of our discussion).
The proposals vary, but they all come down to significant elimination of many people’s student loan debt. There has been little discussion over where the money comes from to actually fix the balance sheet. But for borrowers, they would ostensibly be off the hook for what they took out years prior.
Now let’s consider some important Biblical principles. Scripture overall has a negative connotation attached to debt whenever the subject is mentioned. “The borrower is slave to the lender,” for example (Prov. 22:7).
Proverbs 22:26-27 further states, “Do not be among those who give pledges, among those who become guarantors for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, why should he take your bed from under you?”
We will discuss what the Bible generally says about debt in another article. But the point still comes through clearly: debt is a curse and we ought not take it on.
Now, turning to the subject of whether Christians should advocate for student loan forgiveness. I think the most illustrative passage comes from Psalm 37:21:
The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously.
The first time I read this verse some years ago, it hit me like a ton of bricks. The one who borrows from another and does not repay is wicked. And you know something? It makes complete sense.
If we take from someone without their consent, that’s stealing. If we borrow from someone and promise to pay back, but we do not, that’s fraud and theft.
These are not Christian values. The Bible’s principles do not change when the subject is student loans. If we advocate canceling student loans, we are defying clearly established Scriptural principles.
It may be objected that the loan servicers will not be going unpaid because the government will take care of it. But remember that governments derive all of their revenues from the tax money that we produce. Making the government “pay off the loans” is merely a forced transfer of the debt to someone else. Hence, “cancel student loan debt” ultimately means “make someone else pay my debt.”
It is fundamentally unjust to force another person who did not agree to that debt to pay for it.
Nor is it loving to put others under a greater financial burden when they have not taken that on of their own volition. The United States government is over $27 trillion in debt and that number is rapidly growing. At some point, this will have to be paid by someone, and it won’t be by the politicians voting to increase that amount. Rather, it will be our descendants who pay the price.
Let’s say the government does it anyway and “cancels” a portion of many people’s student loan debt. Are the people who benefit being wicked? I don’t think so. But taking the position that they ought to be canceled is a manifestation of beliefs that are not consistent with what Scripture says. While there may be a short-term benefit for those affected, we can only do things contrary to Biblical principles for so long until the wheels fall off.
It may be further objected that God forgave us our debt by sending Christ to be crucified. But this is a category error. God is sovereign over all things and is not a finite being. He did not have to take from some people to pay off the elect’s sins. Nor would that even be possible, because none are righteous.
God exists in another dimension beyond this realm. He does as He pleases and is not constrained by the laws of our universe. The principle of just “canceling” out another’s debt without collateral consequences does not transfer.
I recognize the student loan issue is a difficult one. Many people are experiencing difficulties because of this ball and chain and we should empathize with them. But the solution is not to violate the Scripture’s principles in trying to solve the problem. It never has been and never will be.
We need to innovate new solutions. But Christians cannot advocate for ideas that contradict God’s Word. The proposal to cancel student loans is simply inconsistent with what Scripture teaches.