This morning, the world is on-fire with conversation regarding “student debt forgiveness.”
I am listening to this debate, as I also meditate on Sunday’s scripture from the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 14), and other Bible stories that speak to us today.
In verse 11 Jesus says, “All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”
Later, Jesus says this: “…when you give a banquet, invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. And you will be blessed because they can’t repay you. Instead, you will be repaid when the just are resurrected.”
The Gospel message, time and again, grates against human understandings of “fairness.” Time and again, Jesus pushes us to understand that what is truly compassionate sometimes feels deeply unfair from a human point of view.
The best example of this is the “Parable of the Workers in the Field.” Economically, this is a disastrous parable, about how people who work one hour a day get paid the same as those who suffer through a whole day of hot Sun.
When the workers who suffer through a full-days work complain about getting paid the same as those who worked one hour, the owner of the vineyard (clearly a stand in for God in this story) responds to them with these words:
“Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.”
Remember as well the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and the rank unfairness to the older brother of the Father’s forgiving the debts of the younger son. (The Father here is the stand-in for God…)
“All that I have is yours,” the Father tells that older son, trying to to appeal to his sense of mercy. We’re never told what the older brother thinks of his Father’s merciful response. But my hunch is, it probably still stings a bit.
Even in the Hebrew Scriptures, we find Jonah complaining about God’s mercy and grace. He wants to see Nineveh destroyed.
But God relents, so Jonah reacts with a *similar fury* as those workers in the field and the older brother.
God tries to reason with Jonah and asks him “Is your anger (at Nineveh repenting, and a shrub that dies) a good thing?”
Jonah is so far inside of his own righteous anger that he shouts back “Yes, my anger is good—even to the point of death!”
So, God, unable to appeal to Jonah’s compassion and mercy, simply says, “for my part, can’t I pity Nineveh…?”
So, I don’t know what to say about this decision from an macro-economic point of view. I am certainly not an economist. But I *do* know, as I’ve hopefully shown here, that the Bible is filled with stories about how God’s sense of justice often feels deeply unfair to we human beings.
I never had any student loans, although Dennise did. So our family did indeed pay off student loans for many years. Additionally, when it came time for our daughter to go to school, we spent decades saving for that. And finally, we found that because of the “Top 10% rule” at our state colleges, Maria didn’t get automatic admission to UT (where I went…) despite have better grades than some kids who DID get in.
I *could* be bitter about all of this…about all that money WE saved for Maria, or paid back when we were young…about admissions rules that resulted in my far-smarter-than-me daughter not getting “automatic admission” into the state school I did….
But I am not. Instead, I see these policies as helping others who haven’t had the blessings our family has had. I see them as grace and mercy to those who need it, when we have been deeply blessed. I see them as responsible justice that will deeply help our state, now and in the future.
Let me illustrate..
Like thousands of other North Texas kids now do, our daughter went to an out-of-state school for college. There was never any doubt, for one second, that she would get a good college education. She, and thousands of other extremely smart Texas kids, now look far beyond the bounds of our state for their college choice.
These kids now have life experiences far beyond what I had at their age, when I stayed here in Texas for school. How is *that* bad?
And now? Twenty years of *other* kids —White kids from rural Texas, Black and Brown kids from inner city high schools— have been afforded the chance to get automatic admission to our Texas state schools.
That is a win-win for our society.
And now comes student loan debt relief.
I supposed I *could* be angry, since I paid most of my own way through graduate school, and since my wife had student loan debts. I suppose I could be angry that we spent twenty years saving for Maria’s college.
But, again, I am not.
Instead, this morning I’m hearing stats such as the following:
This new policy will likely forgive the student debt for HALF of Latino students. Half will find *all* of their debt paid.
BTW: please note what this statistic also means. It means that thousands of kids do NOT have hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt from “Ivy League Schools.”
The relief being offered here is but 1-4% of the total cost of an “elite” private school. So, please don’t take the bait today: Nobody is going for a four-year ride to SMU and Harvard and walking away with all their debt paid.
(Come on, people…)
But, don’t miss that stat: It could be that HALF the Latino students with debt get out from under their “big-to-them” college debt.
Taken as a whole, I see this…
My daughter got a great college education.
And many other kids, who never saw college as a possibility before, have been admitted to, or graduated, college…and now have more of a level playing field as they enter the workforce.
To me, that’s a win-win-win.
I know…I know…
There are plenty of downsides you can point out to me today.
You can talk about how college costs must be contained and are out of control.
You can talk to me about inflation.
But my view is that the most important long range goal of our society today must be to move towards becoming a healthy multiracial democracy.
(For the first time in our history…)
And one way to help this are targeted policies that benefit both poor rural White kids *and* inner Black and Brown kids. As I look at these policies, these are “win-win-win” for many people, even if they do not benefit ME and my family.
And if you still want to say, “But…”
All I can say is, “I get it.” Some of this might feel unfair, and I’ve not at all addressed that unfairness, or maybe the unfairness to you personally.
But I know this, from my own experience and from the point of view of the Gospel:
God’s sense of justice and mercy will always feel unfair from a human point of view.
And that is why God is God, and we are not.