You cannot fight debt with debt

In war, you can fight fire with fire, but in the war on personal debt, you cannot fight debt with more debt.

The poor and the deceitful man meet together: the LORD lighteneth both their eyes.  (Proverbs 29:13)

The word translated “deceitful” here is from a Hebrew word that means “oppressor” and the scene described is not of someone being oppressed while minding his own business. It’s a scene in which the victim is allowing himself to be victimized by an oppressor.

So, let’s put this verse in more modern terms: The man in desperate need of money, either because of circumstance or bad stewardship, meets with the owner of the check-to-cash store, or the E-Z Loan store to score quick cash. The desperate guy knows in the back of his mind, because God gives a modicum of common sense to everyone, that this is a bad idea. The man loaning the money, who has the same God-given modicum of common sense as the desperate guy, knows that he’s charging way more interest than he should and he knows the desperate guy is a bad risk, but he does it anyway in hopes of making a huge profit.

Neither can blame the other for the consequences of their actions. Neither can claim ignorance before God. And one day, in addition to meeting with each other, they will meet with their Maker to give an account of themselves.

This verse is in the Bible to warn us about the dangers of easy credit. Plain and simple. Because Proverbs is a book of plain and simple advice. Wisdom is plain and simple. Sometimes, she’s downright blunt:

O ye simple, understand wisdom: and, ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart. (Proverbs 8:5)

Why is she so “in your face?” Because fools are stupid. If wisdom does not make her statements in flaming letters standing four feet tall, the fool won’t get them, and even so, he still sometimes misses it.

Why does the desperate guy go to a place that will only give him more debt to get out of debt? Why does a moth go to a flame? Because it’s attracted to the light and does not see the kind of light it’s going to as a problem. The man in debt gravitates toward greater debt because he doesn’t think he has a money problem.

Did you know that the world is full of greedy poor people? We’re taught to associate greed with the rich – and there are greedy rich people – but there are lots of greedy poor people too. What all greedy people have in common regardless of their economic status is their obssession with money. Poverty is not a virtue. There are plenty of unscrupulous poor people. Wealth is not a vice. There are many rich people who are good people. In the OT, some of the greatest heroes of the faith were rich people: Abraham, Joeseph, and Job to name a few.

So, in our verse, what is the poor man’s problem? Stewardship of resources. Most of us get into money trouble because we have not learned to be content with what we have and so we live beyond our means. That can put us into desperate and compromising positions. It’s true that sometimes circumstances happen to us beyond our control and put us into dire straits. But the rich and the poor both have one resource in common: both can turn to God for their needs.

More debt is not the answer to debt. If that’s where you are, I know there is a lot of pain and consequence to being in debt. But it’s better to suffer through some of that than to use more debt to put off the inevitable. The most we do with that approach is to get ourselves a temporary stay of execution. The Bible answer to debt is work and good stewardship. It is not easy. But sometimes God makes the consequences to our past actions hard to keep us from going back that way again.

[Photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash]

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