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Q. Is it a sin to declare bankruptcy? How much should we expect other Christians and the church to help us? We have had a serious, unforeseen illness in our family and we're not sure yet if one spouse is going to survive it. Our health insurance is only covering a small portion of it. Then one of us lost a good paying job and the other had to stay home to help. And now we are about to lose our home. I am living in constant fear and dread and need help with it.
We're so sorry to hear about your misfortunes. We hope and pray your spouse survives and recovers completely. Sometimes it surprises people to learn that even those who have health insurance are sometimes denied adequate coverage.
In fact, bankruptcy is frequently due to forces beyond our control. So Christians should never assume that someone was negligent when a family is forced into bankruptcy.
The church cannot always take care of the total needs or desires of its members. They can help with preparing meals, baby sitting children, occasionally helping to pay one or two month's rent and things like that.
But, a church consisting of one hundred or two hundred people in today's economic climate will be limited in how much they can or should do. Often, there are several families in dire straits needing assistance. The church has to be very cautious about showing partiality to just one, particular family.
Does God ever intervene when we face trials like this?
Yes, there are examples of God's intervention in the lives of His children. But, it may not be the kind we wish for. Certainly, God did not show that He supports any kind of extravagant lifestyle - not even the possession of a home. Let's look at one example.
One Biblical example of God miraculously intervening to sustain the life of one of His children is found in the story of Elijah. God told Elijah to hide by a brook during a severe draught that he had declared upon the land.
Elijah the Camper
There the ravens brought Elijah "bread and meat each morning and evening, and he drank by the brook" (1 Kings 17:6, NLT). Elijah was a "camper" (v. 5) and didn't even have traditional shelter or a bed.
Then the brook dried up and the Lord told Elijah to go to the home of a widow. This woman did not live in luxury and had nothing like a Bed and Breakfast facility. In fact, she didn't even have a single slice of bread in the house!
Instead, God made sure she had just enough oil and flour to feed herself, her son and Elijah bread for awhile. Just bread…nothing else.
It is helpful for us to recognize that God did not provide transportation or a middle class home for Elijah. The Lord provided Elijah with life sustaining nourishment and a temporary roof over his head for a time - that is all.
This is a good example of why many of us need to redefine what it means to receive God's provisions in our lives. For example, before declaring total bankruptcy is there an asset we can sell? Do we own a home we can consider selling (even in an awful market)?
Do we own two cars? Is it possible to sell one? Do we have jewelry or musical instruments that could be worth more than we thought? Do we have equipment or machinery that might bring in a little extra cash? Can we rent a room to a student or maybe even rent rooms to two boarders?
Commandment not to Steal
In Exodus 20:15 we see the commandment that "You must not steal."
Psalm 37:21 says, "The wicked borrow and never repay…"
We even see from Exodus 22:14 that if someone borrows an animal from a neighbor and it is injured or dies, we must still "pay full compensation."
From these examples it appears God wants us to repay our loans in most circumstances. God's provisions for our needs may include selling a house, selling an extra car, selling other valuable assets and doing what we can to continue to be responsible stewards.
Have any of us ever considered that selling off extra assets could be one component of God providing for our needs?
Failure to Repay Loans
Failure to repay a debt can be a sin because we are stealing from a creditor (regardless of how "evil" the creditor may be). We are also warned that the borrower becomes a servant of the lender (Proverbs 22:7).
Therefore, whenever possible we should avoid any debts we may not be able to repay in the first place. In most cases this means we should strive to live well below our means and buy only those things we can purchase with available cash.
Taking Care of our Own
When there are severe financial problems heads of the household and other family members must seek to care for their own families (see 1 Timothy 5:8). This should occur before seeking aid from the church.
However, in this day and age there are many broken families who are unwilling to help other family members in need. That is a sad fact in today's society.
If it becomes apparent there is no way we can repay our creditors, then we can rest in the knowledge that God forgives our sins if we believe in the Lordship and Redemptive work of our Lord. We are all to confess our sins to God according to 1 John 1:9 (and to each other when needed - James 5:16).
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
Meanwhile, we all need to get back to the pursuit of faith building in our lives. If we seek His kingdom first the Lord will provide for our needs (see Matthew 6:31-34).
However (and this is important), providing for our needs does not mean fulfilling our desires for the "American dream." Believe it or not, God is not an "American." He loves the Indians, Chinese, and Middle Easterners, too - and they do not live the "American dream." Instead, God will provide for our basic necessities such as subsistence items - food, water, basic clothing and a roof over our heads.
…"Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven
Our debtors…" (Matt. 6:11-12).
We might want to call subsistence-provisions the "Elijah principle." God will always provide subsistence-level survival aid when we have true, genuine needs. In spite of the unscriptural call of "prosperity preachers," this is what it means to have faith that our needs will be met.
All of us need to remember that God already owns everything we have - even our children. We are just stewards of His resources while we live on the earth. God even creates and controls the disasters we face:
"I form the light and create darkness. I bring prosperity and create disaster. I, the Lord, do all these things" (Isaiah 45:7).
None of us will die apart from God's knowledge or will. "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (Psalm 139:16).
We are to be anxious for nothing and to pray about everything (Philippians 4:6).
Turning Evil to Good
Last, God turns any evil against us for our ultimate good. It may appear to be disastrous and harmful to us. But, we are only seeing things from one perspective.
…"we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28). "Even though He slay me yet will I trust Him" (Job 13:15).
As Jerry Bridges point out, remember that no problem equals that of eternal separation from God. If you, your children and spouse are saved it is the most lasting gift from our heavenly Father that one can receive. In this case we always carry with us the awesome hope we will see our families again in Heaven.
Bridges, Jerry. 2006 ed. Trusting God even when life hurts. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
MacArthur, John. 2006 ed. Anxious for nothing. Colorado Springs: Cook Communications.
Robinson, Jerry. 2009. Bankruptcy of our nation. Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Press.
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