The United States quietly sneaked past a new milestone. In the first time in the nation's history, America's national debt reached over $21 trillion. That's more than $21,000,000,000,000 in accumulated spending.
The national debt ballooned under the watch of presidents and legislators from many political ideologies, most recently increasing drastically under President Obama, only to further swell under President Trump. In February, Congress approved a motion to suspend America's debt ceiling, the maximum amount it is allowed to borrow. This law, signed by President Trump, permits unlimited borrowing until March of next year ("U.S. National Debt Exceeds $21 Trillion for First Time," MarketWatch, Robert Schroeder, March 16, 2018). While a small handful of outspoken representatives have voiced concerns over the engorged debt, it seems politics as usual—the ideology of "spend"—all but continues in Washington D.C.
Should you and I be worried about this growing debt? What implications does it have for our lives and for the world's future?
Fortunately, God makes a number of statements regarding debt in the Bible. Perhaps His most consequential reminder is found in Proverbs 22:7, which reads, "The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender." Many popular translations, including the New International Version, render the word "servant" as "slave," meaning obedient and entirely submissive to the lender.
This is because borrowing comes with the implicit promise to pay the money back. God reminds us to "render therefore to all their due" in Romans 13:7 (emphasis added throughout). He tells us it is better to not borrow at all than to borrow and fail to repay (Ecclesiastes 5:5). On an individual level, this is the obligation we have when we pay using a credit card or take on a loan for a home, tuition or a vehicle.
On a global scale, the ability to lend to others rather than borrow from them is considered a national blessing from God (Deuteronomy 28:12). As a nation distances itself from God and His way, the lending to foreign nations transitions into borrowing from them. A foreigner "shall lend to you, but you shall not lend to him; he shall be the head, and you shall be the tail" (Deuteronomy 28:43-44).
The concern with America's national debt, because it is very large, is that it will never be paid back. God has intense condemnation for this behavior: "The wicked borrows and does not repay, but the righteous shows mercy and gives" (Psalm 37:21). It is wicked to not fulfill this type of agreement and to keep our word. Again, at a staggering $21 trillion, this is a very real concern.
What consequences would a nation, even one as large and as mighty as the United States, face for such wicked behavior? Leviticus 26 says God "will break the pride of your power," among a series of other curses (Leviticus 26:19, see also Deuteronomy 28). America cannot stand defiant against this directive from God. It will eventually be grand and imposing no more.
It might come as a surprise to learn God has dealt with nations owing large debts before. Hundreds of years before Christ, the faithful prophet Habakkuk was greatly troubled by the rise of Babylon. God said Babylon, which did not serve Him, would be used to punish Judah for its sins. Habakkuk wondered: Wouldn't Babylon be judged for their own misdeeds?
God answered they would be: "Woe to him who increases what is not his—how long? And to him who loads himself with many pledges? Will not your creditors rise up suddenly? Will they not awaken who oppress you? And you will become their booty. Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the people shall plunder you, because of men’s blood and the violence of the land and the city, and of all who dwell in it" (Habakkuk 2:6-8). These verses apply not just to ancient Babylon, but to the nations which exist still today (see Habakkuk 2:2-3).
From a prophetic perspective, America's national debt represents a clear and present danger to its future. For failing to walk with God, the national blessings the United States enjoyed for many years are beginning to transition into curses. Violence, plunder and oppression are foretold as a result of this debt.
While this has been a sobering look into the future, remember you and I can each make a difference right now. We can be true to our word as individuals and maintain the agreements we make. As America is humbled, let's each also remember to be humble as Christ was humble, knowing that we must be reliant on God. And may we each take to heart the words God told to Habakkuk: "The just shall live by his faith" (Habakkuk 2:3).