Where were you when you heard the US government decided to “bailout” the American auto industry in the form of multibillion-dollar loans? Perhaps it was the day you got a foreclosure notice or got laid off from your job. Maybe you were at home struggling to determine what bill you were going to pay and what bill was going to have to wait. When you heard that word “bailout” for the first time, your natural response might have been, “Where’s mine!”
Let me clarify my position a little. In general, I do not view a “bailout” as a negative thing. A bailout is assistance that helps an entity avert a financial collapse. Think of a bailout as a financial rescue. Many of the contemporary examples of “financial rescues,” like the one mentioned above, involve an “infusion of cash.” But cash is not always the way to financial rescue. Money is not always the answer.
Where’s mine? God wants to give us a bailout. Many times God’s financial rescue it is not an infusion of cash but more in line with what we need. What we may need is an infusion of wisdom and insight about money. It is easy to think of money just in terms of its physicality, but the Bible teaches that money, wealth and property have a spiritual dimension. Jesus spoke about money more than seventy times in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Jesus’ statements about money had more to do with being cautious about its over-attention in our lives than any kind of investment strategy. These statements (and others) are assistance to help avert a financial collapse.
Consider the prevalence of debt in our society today. An anonymous quote that appears in Howard Dayton’s book “The Money Map,” that alerts us to the commonality of debt says, “We have so much debt in our nation that the average person has been described as someone driving on a bond-financed highway, in a bank-financed car, fueled by credit-card-financed gasoline, going to purchase furniture on the installment plan to put in his mortgaged-to-the-hilt home.”
What complicates the prevalence of debt in the western world is that it is seen as a road to financial well-being. Debt is sold. It is a product. Due to its accessibility and marketing, debt has become a way of life. According to creditcard.com (numbers from 2008), 78% of American households own a credit card and have an average balance of $8,300.
The Lord’s word about debt is summed up in Proverbs 22:7, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” We learn here that the borrower is subservient to the one who has made the loan possible. Folks, debt is not this glamorous position but is a predicament of “financial slavery.”
If the Bible is true and becoming a borrower means financial servitude, then why do people enter into debt in droves? First of all, there is much naïveté about the effects and long-term damage that debt can bring. This is illustrated by the fact that as bankruptcies have risen dramatically in the last several years, young Americans, those between the ages of 20-25, have the highest rate of bankruptcy of any group.
Presumptive thinking instead of real life thinking wins out. Instead of strategizing, “How can I get rid of payments to have financial breathing room?” contemporary rational says, “Yes, I have enough left over to make it fit.” But what happens when income is lost by a layoff or pay cut? Those who are wise understand that unforeseen issues happen! As Dave Ramsey says, “Murphy is going to show up every once in a while.”
A very subtle cause of our individual indebtedness can come from within. We are longing in our souls for satisfaction and fulfillment that sometimes we believe can come through material possessions. We find a very helpful comment on this topic from 1 Timothy 6:6-9, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” Debt is a trap that can bring about destruction.
I believe God would say to us that we as individuals need a “debt amendment.”
An amendment, in this case, is a change or a modification in the way we view debt. Debt needs to be viewed seriously and should not be entered into lightly. We need to minimize our current debts and put the kibosh on any future with the rare exception of an appreciable item (such as a mortgage). We need to develop a clear plan to eliminate all debt. This plan needs to be detailed and is one that can be systematically executed over a specific time.
Interested in making your debt amendment? I recommend joining a 13-week Financial Peace University group (many are starting in the community this fall).