Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Great Bailout

Tonight the Senate votes on The Bailout #2. Many Americans are up in arms about it. There are good reasons to feel anger at the indulgences and excesses of the Big investment houses and banks. However, not passing this Bailout (an unfortunate name for what is a financial rescue operation that will benefit all of us) will have a grave impact on us all as we try to get credit or we try to retire on funds that are dwindling by the day. Monday's no vote led by conservative Republicans in the house has already caused great fear and panic, especially among the elderly. There was no need for it. It is surprising that God favored bailouts in the Old Testament. Debt was not something sinful but it was seen as part of life and God's People were to be quick to make loans to those who needed them. In Deuteronomy 15:7-10, God's Word says: If there is a poor man among your brothers ... do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: 'The seventh year, for canceling debts is near' so that you do not show him ill will and give him nothing. He may appeal to the Lord against you and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all you do..." This is quite an amazing text. It refers to the "seventh year" in which all debts were canceled.

In the Old Testament God's People are urged often to loan freely to foreigners (interest bearing) and to fellow Israelites (interest free). These were hard times and poor harvests, bad weather, or raiding enemies could imperil small family farms and the small family living off the farm. The debtor was to be treated compassionately. Indebtedness was taken seriously and the debtor was responsible to repay. However, every seventh year (the seventh seven year period was called the Year of Jubilee) all obligations were canceled whether the debtor deserved such compassionate treatment or not. It seems like God was concerned that a permanent debtor class not be allowed to form in Israel. The family unit needed to be secure and economically stable. That was God's will. Besides interest free loans, God's laws provided for a tithe for the poor (Dt. 14:28-29) and gleaning (Dt. 24:19).

Now it is true that these "debtor laws" were meant to sustain poor farmers down on their luck and not commercial businesses. But the underlying principle is: Debt can be canceled if it achieves a greater good. The question can be asked: what greater good is achieved when a bunch of unscrupulous debtors and lenders get off the hook. Still, there are a great many people who are paying a huge price - and will keep paying - because of the economic malpractice of others. As it was in the simpler Old Testament times so it is today: no good comes from greater insecurity and more economic instability in the family home.

Debt in the Old Testament was neither good nor bad. It is a result of the very precarious conditions of life. God's concern was that "there be no poor among you." Some would say the impending Bailout is going to make some rich people richer and not penalize the guilty parties in this banking crisis for their malpractice. However, it seems certain that a great many others will be made poorer and much unneeded stress will be added to hard working families if this Bailout is not passed.

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