Are these the same? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
The big news now is student loans and who is going to have to pay for them. Sadly, I see a lot of Christians trying to compare this to the atonement. Jesus forgave me of my sins! Should i not rejoice in getting to forgive student loans?
There are three possibilities I see here.
Someone does not understand the economics of the situation.
Someone does not understand the atonement.
Let’s consider an example with credit cards. A credit card is not a blank check such that if I want something, I whip out the card and use it and someone else pays for it. I am essentially telling the company “If you give them this money now, I will pay you back for it at the end of the month.” (I always do. No carrying over a balance.)
Suppose I wasn’t like that. Suppose I went out and bought a PS5 and a bunch of games and bought all the books I wanted and wanted to take a girl out on a fancy date and when the bill came, I just made any minimal payments. Over time, that escalates more and more. I have built up a debt and you could say that debt is “forgiven”, but you could also have grounds for saying I did not handle the card properly and wasted it and now am seeking more of a bailout.
Suppose though I have a really rich friend who says “I think you can turn your life around and get your debt under control and I am going to give you a start by paying your bill for you.” He pays it off. Now in a sense, my debt is cancelled, but he has still taken a hit in some way. If he can afford it and do so, great. If not, he and those he cares for will suffer. In either case, he has done so voluntarily.
What is going on in this situation is that this is being called forgiveness, but that doesn’t make it forgiveness. In the news, one must always watch what words are being used. He who controls the meaning of the language will have a hand-up in the game. Being opposed to what is going on can sound like you are opposed to forgiveness. What Christian would be opposed to that?
This is not forgiveness. This is transference. The government, which already has a huge deficit in a country with intense inflation, is taking on the hit. They will respond by doing nothing, which is not likely, or by increasing taxes, or increasing the price of goods and services somehow, or by decreasing benefits in other areas. Keep in mind that 80,000+ IRS agents have just been added who are told to carry a gun with them.
Also, we don’t have exhaustive records, but true forgiveness also requires repentance. If there was someone who made a mistake in taking out a loan and wasted their money and time and realized they made a mistake in that and needed help, I think the church should be willing to help. That could entail paying the debt, but not necessarily. Sometimes, one of the worst things you can do to help someone is give a handout. You can be enabling.
As an example, when I worked at Wal-Mart, I sometimes worked in the money center. I remember a customer coming in and wanting to transfer money and I could tell he was upset. I asked why and he said he doesn’t have a lot of money, but he has to keep sending money to his son. This son was constantly making mistakes and if he didn’t get the money, he would go to jail.
I told the father bluntly that one of the best things to do would be to let the son fail.
“Then he’ll go to jail.”
“So he’ll go to jail.”
What the father was doing was just enabling and the son had no reason to change his life and not live off of his parents who were eating away at all they had while their son took advantage of them. This father was not really helping the son in that case. He was telling the son by his actions to keep squandering the money and if there was a problem, he would bail him out. The father was willing to because going to jail would just be awful. In reality, it might have been just what the kid needed. Perhaps he needed to hit rock bottom so he could really examine his life.
Now there is not to be joy in that at all. However, proper boundaries means not rescuing people every time they make mistakes. Love sometimes has to be tough.
There are plenty of people also who did the hard work of paying back their loans. Why? They made an agreement to do that. Everyone of them has been slapped in the face. Good behavior has been shown to be not worth it. Bad behavior has been punished.
Of course, this will be on a case-by-case basis. Suppose someone gets a student loan and gets a degree and yet gets in a car accident and can’t work to pay off the loan. I have no problem with the church showing compassion and helping out.
In the atonement, God doesn’t transfer our debt to other people who can’t afford it. He takes it on Himself in Christ and pays it in full. He alone has infinite resources. He can do that. However, unless you are a universalist, you will agree that the only people who it applies to are those who really submit to Christ. (Those who never heard is a separate issue, though I think some of them can be saved by the light they have.)
Are Christians supposed to be people of charity? Yes, but as said, charity can be less than beneficial sometimes. Good motives does not mean good results. I recommend a book such as When Helping Hurts. This is where wisdom comes in. Are you giving to someone who will really use what you give them wisely or someone who will be enabled with a handout?
How do we personally respond? As Christians, we can still rejoice in all things because we know Jesus is still in charge of the story. If we are wronged, which most of us have been with this, we can take it and realize God will give justice someday and He still has infinite resources to provide for us. As a seminary student now, I am living out what it means to believe God can provide as is said in the Sermon on the Mount.
Ultimately, to say this is just the same as the atonement is an insult to the atonement. Something more akin would be if God took the sins of His chosen people, the Jews, and made all the Gentiles suffer judgment to pay for them. Thankfully, He did not. The debt was not transferred. It was paid.
Thanks be to God.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)