In our modern-day life, it is hard to imagine life without debt. Mortgages, credit, and loans are a staple of our economy. These very practical and normal issues can seem quite far removed from the heart of God and His great purposes to save the whole world, but throughout scripture we see a clear theme of God’s care for debtors and longing to see them freed. This vision is central to the work of CMA, as a national charity, and to our work as their Hailsham centre. Whether it is a literal debt of money, or our spiritual debt of sin, God’s heart is for us and for those around us in need.
The Bible makes no secret of the fact that borrowing is not recommended. Money and all its foibles are laid bare as something that has the potential to at least tempt our gaze, and at most to master our hearts. Actively entering debt comes with many burdens and demands that threaten to consume us if not well managed. Proverbs 22:7 states “The debtor is a slave to the lender.” This is because the Bible is clear that money can rob us of our freedom as God’s people. In the book of Deuteronomy, the Israelites suffer the ‘curse’ of being indebted and thereby enslaved to other nations (28:44). They, and many today, are trapped by these power dynamics that come with borrowing money and having to bow to powerful nations and institutions until they are freed.
Thankfully, God has such love for the enslaved and the downtrodden in all societies. We see the incredible fairness of the heart of God in the law on lending: in Exodus 22 there are laws regarding the fair and reasonable treatment of others regarding property. In a section that the NIV subtitles ‘Social Responsibility’, the law states that the Israelites were not to charge interest to each other, and not to withhold a man’s cloak in the cold even if it was given as a security deposit. In amongst these laws that call the community to holy and moral life, it is a clear priority that those in need should be given what they need, over being exploited for business gain.
This doesn’t stop here. In Leviticus 25, God defines the Sabbath Year. There are commands on how to let the land lie fallow every 7 years, and Deuteronomy 15 adds that debts were to be forgiven at the end of the year. Throughout the land, through business and relationships, through peoples’ homes and the ground itself; there was to be a regular return to peace, equality and rest. On the 7th 7th, every 49 years, this would culminate in the Year of Jubilee. The trumpets were to sound, and the year was to be a celebration as all things returned to their rightful place. On top of the rest for the land, this was a year of cancelling debts and the return of wealth to the original tribes. Loans were to be forgotten, the poor were to be blessed, slaves were to be freed. This was commanded in remembrance of how the LORD their God had freed them from their prior slavery and given them every blessing that they have. For the Israelites, the height of celebration and worship was to be a year where all societal inequality was readdressed and the whole community would return to reliance on God. This was an echo of true shalom – true and complete peace and justice amongst God’s people. This symbol was to reflect the core truth of what God has done. He has delivered His people from everything that enslaved them.
Throughout scripture, this image of God’s people being freed from both slavery and debt is a clear theme. We see it throughout the prophets, probably most notably in Isaiah 61, where Isaiah praises and declares the glory of God’s great restoration of both the land and of the people. Jesus himself references this at the start of his ministry in Luke 4, sometimes referred to as Jesus’ ‘manifesto’. The Spirit of God moves to proclaim freedom, to lift and comfort the needy, and to proclaim the heart of God. Again, it is a hope filled picture of shalom for all. We read about freedom from slavery to sin in Romans 7-8, and see a beautiful picture of the people being reconciled to God in Colossians 1:19-23. All these ideas are cyclical and interlinked. To be free from debt is to be free from sin, is to be free from slavery, is to be free before our God. We, living under freedom in Christ, have the joy of being called to continue in Christ’s work of declaring the year of the Lord’s favour until he returns.
And we get to live in that truth. It is ‘realised eschatology’ – being able to enjoy and enact in the present some of what God has promised to deliver in full in the future. One day we will participate in the ultimate Jubilee: the marriage of Christ and the Church where all will stand together as one and praise. Until then, we are to show others the freedom that Christ has awarded us and, better still, to invite them to experience it too. Not just in the overarching hypothetical sense, but in real concrete terms. This includes dignifying all people, providing the poor with all that they need, working together in kindness and compassion, and freeing people from what binds them.
So, even though our work at CMA may seem a bit boring or inaccessible, the drive behind it is to reflect God’s heart. I have had the joy of telling our clients that they are freed from their debt, and it is a beautiful and holy thing to see the joy of freedom replacing the old fear of being held ransom. And our prayer as a team is to see how much greater our clients’ joy will be when they get to experience freedom before God as His saved children.