If the Lord should bring a total collapse to society, turning the world upside down and scattering its inhabitants, then, of course, all classes in society would meld into nothingness, and the borrower would be the same as the lender. In other words, our financial status would be irrelevant and erased (see Isaiah 24:1-2). Barring such total destruction, and assuming a more subdued collapse to the economy, how should we as Christians prepare for the coming economic crisis due to the national debt? After all, the wisdom of God says, “A prudent man foresees the evil, and hides himself; but the simple pass on, and are punished” (Proverbs 27:12).
Before answering that question, let me first draw your attention to God. According to Scripture, all spiritual growth proceeds from rightly knowing God, even though we tend first towards knowing our duty. As in salvation, so also in sanctification, life comes through faith, not the law; therefore, let us first know who God is, then what our duty is.
Fundamentally, God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkingness and truth” (Exodus 34:6). With regard to the oppressed poor, He hears their cry, for He says, “I am gracious” (22:27; cf. Psalm 103:6). When the entire nation of Israel groaned under the bondage in Egypt, God delivered them, and provided them the precedent for graciously lending to each other (e.g. Leviticus 25:35-38). Similarly, when we were impoverished due to our sin, Jesus demonstrated His own grace in voluntarily becoming poor, that we “through his poverty might become rich,” thereby laying the precedent for Christian giving (see 2 Corinthians 8:9 in context).
This connection between God’s grace and our grace is perhaps most stunning in Psalms 111 and 112, which are acrostic mirrors of each other. Boldly, the psalmist first sings of God as “gracious and full of compassion” (Psalm 111:4); he then echoes, singing of the man who fears God as “gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous,” having grace and lending to the poor (112:4-5). Moreover, just as the Lord’s “righteousness endures forever” (111:3), so also the righteousness of the man who fears God endures, for he never stops distributing his wealth to the poor (112:3, 9). Like a farmer who continues to sow his seed year after year, the godly man continues to give, and to receive from the Lord a fresh harvest to meet his own needs and the needs of others (see 2 Corinthians 9:8-11, which quotes Psalm 112:9). This mindset of perpetual giving and harvesting, rooted firmly in the gracious character of God, is the basis for the New Testament’s commands to give to the poor.
Therefore, Christian, in light of the national debt, strive to be in a position to give. Think of the national debt as providing an opportunity to give, rather than a justification to stockpile for the indefinite future (cf. Matthew 6:19-21). The godly man “shall not be afraid of bad news; his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD” (Psalm 112:7). He seeks God’s kingdom and righteousness first, knowing that God will supply his own food and clothing, even in famine (Matthew 6:33; cf. Psalm 33:18-19). As we shall see in a bit, the godly man ever gives and shows grace to the poor.
Is this not exciting? What an opportunity lies ahead! Listen to this surprising contrast from the Psalms:
“The wicked borrows, and does not pay back; but the righteous shows mercy and gives” (Psalm 37:21).
Literally, the righteous is gracious and gives. It is not just enough to pay off one’s debts; the real contrast between the righteous and the wicked is in giving versus taking. In light of fiat money and bankruptcy laws, in which both government and people borrow and do not pay back, how brightly do the righteous shine when they give and give and give! Later, David testifies in the same psalm:
“I have been young, and now am old;
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his offspring begging bread.
He is ever merciful, and lends; and his offspring is blessed forever.
Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell forevermore” (Psalm 37:25-26).
The godly man is “ever merciful”–literally, ever gracious. Nothing makes the righteous man stop giving.
Therefore, in light of the gracious character of God and of the man who fears God, let me close with some practical counsel.
First, get out of debt. Borrowing and lending are opposite categories (Deuteronomy 15:6; 28:12, 44). You cannot truly give or lend, if you yourself are in debt. When a debtor gives, he gives away what technically belongs to his creditor, the owner; therefore, when we are in a position to pay back what we owe, we must pay it back immediately (Proverbs 3:27-28). Next to our tithes to God and daily necessities, debts come first in our order of priorities.
Second, develop a gracious disposition toward the poor through focusing on God. There is an interesting proverb that links our stance toward the poor with our attitude toward the Lord: “He that oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker; but he that honors Him has grace on the poor” (Proverbs 14:31). If we truly honor God, we will give to the poor; if we oppress the poor, we are somehow blaming God, perhaps for making poor people in the first place.
Third, seek to be creative in helping the poor, especially those who are poor through sin. For example, the Bible says clearly that laziness brings poverty (e.g. Proverbs 24:30-34); therefore, let us help the lazy poor through providing opportunity to work. Moreover, those poor through gluttony, drunkenness, and substance abuse should be given help through the Gospel, honest work, and accountability (cf. Proverbs 23:20-21). Even those who are poor through foolish credit may be helped better through refinancing at no interest than through paying off their loan outright, so that they might learn the seriousness of debt. Lending is a biblical form of giving (see Deuteronomy 15:8, 10; Psalm 37:21, 26; Luke 6:30, 35). In all these ways, the true and full needs of the poor must be our criteria, not selfish means of gain. Like the Jews who were told not to charge interest, we too will be tested, whether our endeavors are truly charity for the poor in honor to the Lord, or manipulation.
Finally, let me send you off with this beautiful thought from the book of Proverbs: “He that is gracious to the poor lends to the LORD; and that which he has given will He pay him again” (Proverbs 19:17). Did you catch that? God takes out a loan. Every time we give to the poor, it is as if we are lending to the Lord. What an encouragement to trust God with our own needs! As I give to meet real needs, I can rest assured that when I truly need it, God will give to me. Unlike our culture, God is righteous. God always pays off His loans. Interestingly, He often pays off His loans to the righteous by taking from the ill-gotten interest gained by wicked creditors (Proverbs 28:18; cf. 22:16). We truly have interesting days ahead. Let us pray:
“O Father in Heaven, You have been so gracious to us, in not only giving us a superabundance of daily bread, but in also erasing our sins through the poverty of Christ on the Cross. Forgive our bad attitudes towards the poor, as if we ourselves were not poor in Egypt when You found us. Please deliver us from our current financial debts, perhaps due to selfish desires and foolish spending, and grant us grace to see the real needs of those around us, preparing well for the day when we can meet the needs of others locally and of suffering Christians abroad. Please, O Lord–You are gracious; make us gracious too. In the name of Your Son Jesus, Amen.”