This morning, Charles Stanley wanted to talk about debt. And as usual, the subject made me mad. Let me set the stage here a bit. First off, I've filed bankruptcy a few years back. About half of the people I know have done likewise. Second, I understand that there are things that can be done short of bankruptcy. I get that you should live within your means. I realize that as a Christian, I should always strive to pay my debts. And I know that there are people who spend without concern, conscience, or care, and then go to the courts to reset their bank accounts.
All that said, I would like just once to hear a pastor who seems to get that there are times and circumstances when you just cannot help it. Now, Dr. Stanley mentioned that he wasn't talking about people going through "catastrophic" events, i.e. medical crises, natural disasters, etc. But beyond that, the body of blame he placed more or less on obeying your desires and deluding yourself that they are necessities. You need to look at what you're going into debt over and pick and choose carefully. And also, that going into debt is a sign of doubt that God will provide. To me, this is a nice one-size-fits-all for someone who hasn't been there lately.
Now, I'm not going to claim that I was "doing everything right" or "putting it all before God" when I filed. I was partying (mostly on other peoples bankrolls, though); I had not one but two live-in girlfriends who didn't work, whether through health incapability or sheer fat laziness. Still, I went without a TV for two years, until someone gave me one; I had a second job (which basically bought the gas for both and threw in a little grocery money- it wouldn't do that now with $4 gas); my kids didn't even have a bed to sleep in when they visited. The bankruptcy was not a direct cause of irresponsibility. It's direct cause was that in 5 years my lot rent went up 40-50% while my pay remained static. The mortgage on the trailer (which I admit I didn't understand at the time) was adjusted twice by the finance company, and they could do no more. My sister paid a couple of months of phone bill once. I simply couldn't make the money necessary to keep up with the greed of the park management.
And there are a lot of people who go through the same thing. It doesn't take a "catastrophic" event, just go on disability, or SSA. It doesn't take lavish spending, just fixed expenses that rise and pay that doesn't. It doesn't take maxing out your card, just hitting a bad stretch at 25-30% interest payments. And the Church here on earth can and will be helpful when needed, don't get me wrong. But sermons nearly always make you feel that filing is a sin, because you're not paying what you "promised". And they never BUT NEVER mention the other side of the story.
I want to look at Nehemiah Chapter 5 to show you what I mean. I have only ever found this talked about in a pastoral discourse on debt ONE TIME. And my question is, why is that? Let me post the chapter and go along from there.
1 And there was a great outcry of the people and their wives against their Jewish brethren. 2 For there were those who said, “We, our sons, and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain, that we may eat and live.”
3 There were also some who said, “We have mortgaged our lands and vineyards and houses, that we might buy grain because of the famine.”
4 There were also those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our lands and vineyards. 5 Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children; and indeed we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have been brought into slavery. It is not in our power to redeem them, for other men have our lands and vineyards.”
6 And I became very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. 7 After serious thought, I rebuked the nobles and rulers, and said to them, “Each of you is exacting usury from his brother.” So I called a great assembly against them. 8 And I said to them, “According to our ability we have redeemed our Jewish brethren who were sold to the nations. Now indeed, will you even sell your brethren? Or should they be sold to us?”
Then they were silenced and found nothing to say. 9 Then I said, “What you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies? 10 I also, with my brethren and my servants, am lending them money and grain. Please, let us stop this usury! 11 Restore now to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive groves, and their houses, also a hundredth of the money and the grain, the new wine and the oil, that you have charged them.”
12 So they said, “We will restore it, and will require nothing from them; we will do as you say.”
Then I called the priests, and required an oath from them that they would do according to this promise. 13 Then I shook out the fold of my garment[a] and said, “So may God shake out each man from his house, and from his property, who does not perform this promise. Even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.”
And all the assembly said, “Amen!” and praised the LORD. Then the people did according to this promise.
Okay, now let's look at what I highlighted. The first two passages, in VV 3-4 tell us that we are not looking at (and since the Bible is the inspired Word Of God, God is telling us) people who are prodigal spenders. They were taking out loans for the necessities of life. And yet, they were struggling. How many times do we these days talk about the government "buying now with our grandchildren's savings"? These people are in that same boat. They are mortgaging their children's futures for the necessities of life, and cannot pay it back because all of their resources are being devoured by interest! Pastors, when you preach about debt, why do you condone this???
Nehemiah then calls a spade a spade; interest is one thing, usury is another. If God requests 10%, who are we as humans to ask 25-30%? And yet, when laws are enacted to protect lenders, the financial world cries foul and raises rates in other spots to keep their "necessary cashflow". When nobody can pay their mortgages, the government gives the money to the financial institutions (to "stabilize"them), and they pocket the money and SELL THE BAD MORTGAGES TO THE GOVERNMENT! All this when you could have paid most of our mortgages off free and clear if you'd have combined the stimulus money with the price paid for the subprime mortgages and JUST PAID THEM OFF!! Pastors, when you tell me that I am sinning in going to bankruptcy court, what about them??
Nehemiah then goes on to re-institute the Jubilee year- he tells them to restore the title to the people's resources, and even to pay back some of what had been charged them. What bank has EVER done that? I don't quite think that getting "cash back" on my Discover card covers this. Pastors, when you tell me to pay, do you ever go to my creditor and tell them to restore? Huh??
Finally look at v 13. There is a retribution to failing to do so, and this is from God, His inspired word. Loss of "property" for non-compliance. Is this not, in essence, what filing bankruptcy IS? Rewinding all the caveats I began with, bankruptcy is not this sin I commit against my creditor- it is the fulfillment of God's promise to the oppressed against the usurer. Why, o pastor, have I never heard THAT from the pulpit?
Man screws up, man judges. God comforts. And I really feel that this is a huge area where the Church today fails. So ready to play by the rules of man when it comes to money, instead of bringing God's comfort. What good is it to help me dig my way out, if I must feel guilty about doing it in the first place? Pastors really need to wake up and realize that there is a difference between bankruptcy that is a sin against God and bankruptcy that is a sin against money.