In June 2010 the United States federal government debt passed the $13 trillion mark. The figure had increased by $2.4 trillion in the previous 18 months. And it excludes money owed by the different USA state governments, and by business and individuals. Thirteen trillion is a number so frighteningly large that it is difficult to comprehend its magnitude. The following example may help:
- One million seconds is equal to 11 days.
- One billion seconds is equal to 31 years.
- One trillion seconds is equal to 31,000 years.
- Thirteen trillion seconds is equal to 412,000 years!
A million dollars may seem like a lot of money to you, but it is a grain of sand in the desert compared to $13 trillion.
The US federal government debt is set to get worse – much worse. In the next few years, and for decades to follow, trillions more dollars have to be found to fund social security and medical aid programs for the retiring baby-boomers. The most severe austerity measures – public spending cuts and higher taxes – are going to be required just to contain US government debt at $13 trillion and prevent it blowing out to tens of trillions of dollars.
In spite of this alarming situation, the US dollar has been strengthening in the last few weeks, compared to the Euro, the British pound and the Japanese yen. This is because, if the US federal government debt is bad, the level of debt in Britain, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Japan and several eastern European countries is even worse. One financial commentator described this not as a beauty contest but as an ugly contest. The fiscal situation in much of the developed world is so terrible that it actually makes the USA look good.
Soon the bill for all this excess is going to fall due. It is unsustainable for the western world to go on borrowing, and mortgaging the future for the next generation, in the way that it has in the past.
What is a Bible-believer to make of this situation? What is the lesson? What does the Bible say about debt?
In fact, the Bible gives no instruction on borrowing, and certainly does not forbid financial debt. The phrase “neither borrower nor lender be”, which many people think comes from the Bible, is actually taken from the writings of Shakespeare.
The Bible is silent about debt, but it seems entirely reasonable for people to be able to borrow money to, say, start a business or acquire a home. Or for governments to build roads and hospitals.
Likewise, when it comes to gambling, the Bible says nothing. Small-stake games of chance have provided entertainment for the people of many cultures from the dawn of time.
What the Bible does address is greed.
Greed is the unrestrained desire to have more and more – not just money, or food, but prestige, status, power and influence.
When greed fuels borrowing and speculation there is a toxic result. What we are witnessing in the western world today, in government at every level, and in individual households, is the result of rampant greed.
Jesus said this is what we should guard against ( Luke 12:15 ). As Christians we cannot change the world economic situation. We are going to have to live in the midst of the social consequences, like everyone else. What we can do is set an example of restrained living – and redeem the time to present the gospel of Jesus Christ to people who are about to come under enormous financial pressure.