[Feb 25]--People and Things

Exodus 22:25-27; Deut. 24:10-13

When discussing the commandment against stealing, I made the point that God apparently values property rights, meaning that although ultimately you don’t own your “stuff,” your neighbor doesn’t own your stuff either. While this is pretty obvious, there have been quite a few debates within the church over the last 30-40 years about which view of economics is closest to the biblical worldview. How high should taxes go? How much should government regulate businesses and wages? The Bible doesn’t give too many cut and dried answers on these issues, but there are some questions which I think we can answer.

No matter what your view on taxes or government regulation, we can lay down one principle which should overshadow all discussion on economics: People are more important than things. The Torah had the death penalty for several crimes which we'd never sanction today: blasphemy, cursing one’s parents, kidnapping, adultery; but theft was not one of them. The absolute worst punishment one could receive for property theft would be a hefty fine several times the worth of the stolen item (see here, for example). Apparently God considered things like parental authority much more important than any type of theft (except for theft of people, otherwise known as kidnapping, which was a capital crime).

On the issue of interest for loans, this used to be a much more debated issue within the church, since the international banking system is a relatively recent development. The Medieval Church (on the basis of passages like today’s reading) usually outlawed any form of interest, but Jews tended to interpret it as “excessive” interest. The Jewish argument is that interest is the payment the loaner receives for the use of the money; if there’s no interest, then in most situations the lender actually loses money. Friends would never charge interest in a personal loan, and you shouldn't charge interest if you're making an emergency loan to someone in immediate need, but a bank has to make some type of profit, or it'll close its doors and its potential borrowers will be robbed of its resources. The passage in Exodus specifically and explicitly differentiates what it's talking about from a business deal. This is not talking about taking a loan to start a small business. This is loaning something to your neighbor to keep them from starving or freezing to death. I find the Jewish case to be persuasive, but the main point of this passage remains unchanged: People are more important than things.

When examining the Deuteronomy passage for today, I think we need to use the principle/application method. Why would God care about how a creditor collects a debt? Because human dignity is important to him. Imagine that you’re a debtor, and someone storms into your home and demands repayment in front of your wife and children. How would that make you feel? If you're so poor that you have to put up your coat as collateral, then the Lord commands the creditor to show compassion. Again, people are more important than things.

I might not be an international banker, but I still might need to examine my attitude towards things and people. In almost every book of the Bible you will find warnings about how we treat the poor and/or encouragement for us to be generous. Proverbs 19:17 says that “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.” If my very soul belongs to my Lord, then how is that reflected in my finances?

Lord Jesus, you own it all. Whatever you want, the answers is “yes.” When I don’t value bearers of your image, please forgive me.

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