Far too often people come to me for help loaded with all sorts of assumptions, emotional baggage, and guilt about their financial situation. They feel that it is immoral to consider some options and instead set themselves up for long term failure by not knowing all the facts.
They launch into five to ten year repayment plan that leave them in unsafe and financially dangerous positions because they are afraid that options like bankruptcy are not biblical. But is your God one of love, forgiveness and understanding or punishment?
So what does the bible really say about this?
Here is what Carl Starrett, a bankruptcy attorney in California says.
“I am often asked what the Bible says about Christians filing for bankruptcy and it a serious spiritual struggle for many. Christians often struggle with feelings of guilt that creditors will not be repaid. Others feel that they have failed God by not being good stewards with their money. Others believe that the Bible condemns bankruptcy.
Actually the Bible expressly grants permission for Christians to file bankruptcy: “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts. And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the LORD’s release” (Deuteronomy 15:1-2).
A number of Old Testament and New Testament passages discuss concepts of sin, mercy, forgiveness and equity but bankruptcy is biblical and spiritually available to Christians.
However, the ultimate decision to file for bankruptcy and the type of bankruptcy to file must still be made after prayerful consideration to seek guidance from from God regarding what decision he would have you make.”
What does the Bible say?
Many Christians feel guilty about seeking to file for bankruptcy protection. They feel guilty because they ran up large debts on their credit cards and now are unable to pay back the money to their creditors. Some Christians feel bad that their creditors will not be paid. Others have heard that the Bible condemns bankruptcy. Yet before we begin, it is important for us to define what is meant by the term “bankruptcy”; then, we can critically examine what the Bible tells us.
In the United States of America, our founding fathers recognized the importance of bankruptcy. In the U.S. Constitution, they provided our government with the right to make bankruptcy laws. The bankruptcy laws and procedures we have today, instituted by our federal government, provide relief for overburdened debtors. Persons/entities who are over-their-head in debt can get a fresh start. Normally, a bankruptcy will discharge the debtor’s obligation to repay some or all debts.
Bankruptcy contemplates the “forgiveness” of debt. The Bible, likewise, contains debt forgiveness laws. Under U.S. law, a debtor may only receive a discharge of debts in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy once every eight (8) years. Under Biblical law, the release of debts came at the end of seven (7) years.
“At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts. And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the LORD’s release” (Deuteronomy 15:1-2).
The Bible refers to debt as a type of bondage: “…the borrower is a slave to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7). Thus, the debtor is a slave to the creditor. Interestingly, the Bible declares, at the end of the sixth year:
“…in the seventh year you shall let [your Hebrew slave] go free from you. And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away emptyhanded; but you shall supply him liberally from your flock…” (Deuteronomy 15:12-14).
Modern bankruptcy laws, like the Biblical provision above, allow debtors to keep certain property when they file bankruptcy. This gives debtors a fresh start and discourages debtors from going into debt-bondage again, after the bankruptcy is over, in order to survive.
Jesus taught us that sin is a type of spiritual debt. Jesus also taught us to ask God to “forgive us our debts [sins] as we forgive our debtors [those who sin against us]” (Matthew 6:12, Luke 11:4). Sin creates a spiritual debt. Borrowing produces a financial debt. Regarding our spiritual debt, the law of justice declares: “the wages of sin is death [separation from God]” (Romans 6:23a). However, the law of grace and mercy states that “the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23b). Jesus paid for our debt of sin on the cross, a debt too big for us to pay.
Likewise, economically, the law of justice states that if you agree to borrow money and repay the debt, you must pay back such debt. The law of mercy, on the other hand, states that if you cannot pay the debt back, you may, through bankruptcy, obtain forgiveness for your obligation.
As with any act of mercy, someone must bear the cost or the burden, just as Jesus did in dying for our sins. With bankruptcy, the creditor and ultimately the consumers must, in mercy, bear the burden of the unpaid debt, but God said He will bless us for such acts of forgiveness and mercy (Deuteronomy 15:5,10,18).
Jesus, in two (2) parables, used the illustration of forgiveness of a financial debt to teach about God’s forgiveness and the requirement that mankind forgive (see Matthew 18:21-35 and Luke 7:36-50). “And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both” (Luke 7:42). On a spiritual level, by the grace and mercy of God, Jesus gave us a “fresh start” by canceling all our “sin” debts through His suffering and death on the cross. On an economic level, our nation will graciously help overburdened debtors, if necessary, by giving them a fresh start economically.
A guiding principle of U.S. bankruptcy law requires persons who file for bankruptcy to have “clean hands.” Accordingly, a debtor may not be freed from debts involving fraud, drunk driving, and deliberate wrongdoing. Moreover, bankruptcy law does not allow the discharge of child support and alimony debts. Further, most student loans, taxes (Romans 13:1,4,7) and secured loans are not forgiven in bankruptcy. Through these restrictions, bankruptcy laws seek to balance justice and equity (Proverbs 1:3).
As with most biblical principles, there is a balance. If you can repay your debts, you must. If you cannot, then you should determine how God would have you freed from the bondage of debt. Our modern bankruptcy laws were derived from the Bible (Deuteronomy 15:1-2). Further, the Bible describes financial miracles (2 Kings 4:1-7). Ultimately, you must seek wisdom and guidance from God as to the direction He would have you choose. God promises to give such wisdom to those who ask with a trusting heart (James 1:5-7; Proverbs 3:5-6). Further, the Bible admonishes us to seek Godly counsel (Psalms 1:1; Proverbs 12:15, 11:14, 15:22).
If you have mismanaged your finances, confess your failings to God now. You can receive, by faith, His forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9). Remember, there is no condemnation or guilt to those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Jesus, by His love and mercy, gave us a fresh start, a new birth. Bankruptcy, based on the law of mercy with divine origins, if necessary, may provide you with a fresh start – a new and brighter economic outlook.
Source: Matthew B. Tozer and Ben E. Lofstedt
P.S. Others have offered the following thoughts on this subject as well.
Consider: “Then he said to them, ‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ ” (Matthew 22:21). The New Testament is not my strong suit, but if Ceaser (the U S Government) is ok with bankruptcy in a secular context, you can not render unto Ceaser what Ceaser says you don’t have to render. – James Rubenstein