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Financial Bankruptcy and Spiritual Bankruptcy

By Dr. Michael Russell (reprinted with permission)

In Deuteronomy 15, Moses reveals God’s concern with perpetual or chronic debt among His people. Moses says,

At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts.

“This is the manner of remission: every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the Lord’s remission has been proclaimed.”

This is a remarkable passage, to say the least. Debts were to be forgiven, i.e., not held against the debtor and not to be repaid. In God’s economy, debts could be forgiven and eliminated.

Certainly – and thankfully, I think – we do not live in a theocracy and the laws of the Bible do not dictate the behavior of Christians in such matters. We are to be subject to the laws of the land and, perhaps influenced by the nation’s Christian heritage, the United States does pro- vide escape from debt. If a person has the ability to repay the debt, that is required, although the debt is sometimes lessened or restructured. When an individual is unable to repay, however, the debt is legally discharged and unsecured debt is eliminated.

It has puzzled me over the years why Christian leaders have stressed – almost legalistically at times – that debts have to be repaid no matter what. According to these experts (who often lack theological train- ing), to fail to do so is to sin and reflects spiritual bankruptcy on the part of the person filing. Failure to repay a debt for any reason is sin, and financial bankruptcy is to them irrefutable proof of spiritual bankruptcy. But I question – no, I reject – that conclusion.

God is a God of grace; capital- ism knows nothing of grace. When I hear the Christian financial leaders demanding repayment of debts, I hear capitalism drowning out the grace of God.

This is not to encourage financial irresponsibility or deny the steward- ship Christians are given with their money. It is, however, to balance the legalistic, capitalistic demands of some that debt always has to be paid.

Certainly if one is financially able to pay a debt, they should do so; in those cases where a person is unable to repay, they should be allowed to apprehend the grace of God made possible through our government without having to bear the stigma of being spiritually bankrupt, too.

Christians need to recognize the need to file bankruptcy as discipline from God and a message to change their relationship to money. At the same time, however, they need to recognize the grace of God and that He is, once again, shown to be a God of new beginnings.