Of Forgiveness and Taxes

Imagine this scenario of you will…

You are in a coma. You have been for some time and are completely unaware of your surroundings.

Now imagine while you are “out” the President and Congress passes a sweeping tax reform bill for our country. It is announced that beginning in 2019 everyone will pay a simple flat tax of 12% (I just pulled that number out of the air, so don’t read any significance into it).

Now let’s say that sometime early next year you come out of your coma and after a few weeks of therapy, you are ready to return to your former life, job and all.

But you are unaware of the tax law changes.

Now, let’s assume, for the sake of argument alone, that when told about the tax reform and the new rate. A rate that will save you significantly on your tax bill, you simply refuse to believe it. It’s just “too good to be true”. You request that your taxes be taken out at the same rate as they have always been “just in case”. Maybe you mistrust the government. Who knows? The point is you are paying something you no longer owe simply because you refuse to believe that you don’t have to pay it.

But isn’t this what mainstream Christianity teaches we should do?

It is said that Jesus “paid” the debt of sin to God on your behalf. But if you don’t BELIEVE that, then you have to pay the debt YOURSELF in the form of punishment in Hell for eternity. Basically, if you don’t BELIEVE Jesus secured your forgiveness, then you are not forgiven.

But let’s go back to our real-world scenario. If the tax reform was passed, then those taxes are NOT owed. It makes NO difference what a person BELIEVES about the taxes they think they should pay. If the government has declared a certain rate, then that is ALL they are going to accept. Anything you pay over that will be returned to you, because that is not your debt. In other words, your BELIEF does not change the REALITY of the tax rate. So, why does your belief change your state of forgiveness? If Jesus paid it all, for all humanity, then how could OUR will, our stubbornness or ignorance be stronger than that act of reality? If OUR belief is the linchpin on which forgiveness rests, then wouldn’t we, in the act of believing, an act of OUR will, be effectively saving OURSELVES?

I submit that OUR wills do not make for reality. Jesus PAID the debt. The debt that the LAW demanded — blood. Forgiveness was secured. Whether you or I BELIEVE that fact does not CHANGE the fact. It changes our RESPONSE to that fact, our ability to live in the knowledge of that fact, but not the fact itself. I can continue to pay the old tax rate if I am stubborn enough to, but that doesn’t force the government to take my money. It doesn’t change what IS.

Our faith is for US, not for God. Our faith allows US to accept and live in the forgiveness we’ve ALREADY been given. It does not “allow” God to forgive us. God forgives because He’s God, not because of what we believe, say or do.

So next time someone tries to convince you that your faith is REQUIRED to effect God’s forgiveness (or love or grace or anything else), remind them of this little analogy. Faith believes what is real (truth). It changes SUBJECTIVE reality (what I think and feel), not OBJECTIVE reality.

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In Debt

In debt.

Our entire lives, we live “in debt”.

As children, we live “indebted” to our parents. Even if they say we owe them nothing, we still FEEL indebted, at least at some point to some degree.

As adults, our very LIVES revolve around debt. Buy a car — debt. Buy a house — debt. Use credit cards — debt. Especially in America, very few of us leave this planet not owing someone something. For most of us (and of course there ARE exceptions) being indebted is one of our most familiar feelings.

So, it’s no wonder we carry this same paradigm over into the spiritual world.

According to popular theology, we are indebted to God.

The idea is that God is the cosmic CPA, and he’s got all our books. The FIRST line in everyone’s ledger reads “Original Sin”, and that one is enough right there to get us on the hook. Even IF we could somehow never break even one of “God’s laws”, we would still be in the “red” from birth. But it doesn’t stop there. We are told that every infraction of God’s law (some use the Ten Commandments or some other similar standard) “offends” God and He adds it to our list of indebtedness. We are told this cosmic spreadsheet MUST be balanced if we ever have any chance of living with God in the hereafter because apparently He cannot coexist with anyone or anything that is not perfect like Him.

So, in addition to all the EARTHLY Statements of Debt that stand against us and for which we are responsible (even after death), we have a SPIRITUAL “note” that must be satisfied after we die. And of course we believe all this. Debt is how we understand life. It all makes perfect sense to us

Except God is not like US.

Yes, you can find a smattering of BIBLICAL support for such a view of God. There ARE mentions of “books” that are opened. Although this is in Revelation, a book full of allegorical and apocalyptic imagery. There are a few other passages that seem to indicate that God holds a list of offenses against us that we can never “repay”. Now, popular theology proclaims that THIS is why Jesus died, to pay our debt to God so that we wouldn’t have to. However, the payment for this debt for Jesus was to die on the cross, and for sure that’s a horrible way to die. But OUR payment for this debt is to be tortured for ETERNITY in Hell. I don’t know about you, but that seems an inordinate and unbalanced payment system to me. Of course, there is NO Biblical support for this “payment” system. The “wages” of sin is proclaimed to be death (which is bad enough), NOT unending torture in Hell. But somehow that got added into the “wages”. I would think that the ETERNITY part would be MUCH more important to mention (and mention REPEATEDLY) than the “death” part.

This is all proclaimed to be God’s “justice” system. Somehow, because sin “offends” God, being tortured for eternity does the OPPOSITE of that (pleases Him?). That is how the scales of justice are “balanced”. But again, where is this system laid out clearly in scripture? I just don’t see it. Maybe somebody can enlighten me with the place where this cosmic “exchange system” is clearly laid out for us. And, no, I don’t mean grab a verse from here and a verse from there, like it was some cosmic Bible puzzle we were meant to figure out. If THIS is REALLY the way the universe works, the PRIMARY SYSTEM on which God sets the course of our VERY SOULS, then it had better be explained SOMEWHERE, quite plainly and hopefully, even more than once. But I have yet to find it.Even Jesus didn’t discuss it.

If we believe that Jesus came to reveal to us the Father (and He said as much several times), than He should have ALSO clearly laid out this debt/payment system for us, and made it clear to people when they were adding to their indebtedness. However, I see just the OPPOSITE in the behavior of Jesus. Jesus just FORGAVE sins CONSTANTLY, for no reason at all — just because. Now, either Jesus is the “good side” of God that forgives people OR Jesus is the full REVELATION of God and GOD forgives people as well.

And, by the way, FORGIVING someone is TOTALLY different than making/allowing/causing someone else to PAY the debt. PAYMENT is NOT FORGIVENESS. I’m sure your mortgage company will explain that to you if you don’t understand that. Jesus didn’t say, “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll PAY for that sin”. He said it was FORGIVEN. ERASED. GONE. OVER. FINISHED.

During His life He did this for INDIVIDUAL people as He met them where they were (in their sinfulness, by the way — so much for God not being able to be in the presence of imperfection). At the cross, He forgave us ALL. Why? Because He CAN! Because He’s GOD. God wasn’t up in heaven going, “Oh good, finally this debt is getting paid off (well, at least for some of them.)”. No, scripture says, God was “in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” How was the reconciliation accomplished? Through payment? No, through forgiveness. Why? Because God LOVES us. And the cross PROVES (demonstrates) that love.

The idea of DEBT is a HUMAN idea that God has been trying to reverse FOREVER. It has been PROJECTED onto the character of God by MAN. We OWE people, we figure we must owe GOD, too. When we are hurt, we figure they “deserve” (are OWED) hurt in return. If someone borrows from us, we EXPECT to get paid. All scales MUST be balanced.

But throughout scripture God has been trying to get us to FORGIVE all debts, both personal and financial. “FORGIVE” is forever on God’s lips. Remember the “Year of Jubilee” when all DEBTS were to be cancelled? Yeah, that was God, trying to get us to FORGIVE rather than hold ONTO debt. Do we presume that God doesn’t do what He tells US to do?

Jesus came to CORRECT our erroneous view of God as debt collector. He is not a cosmic CPA writing down ledgers of sin debt for us day by day. He is our loving Father who died to PROVE how much He loves us. Died at “our” own hands. And when He came back to life in the resurrected Jesus said, “Peace be with you.”. He’s not holding ANYTHING against us. LOVE does not “keep a record of wrongs”. If we believe that GOD keeps a record of wrongs, than gives us mental approval to do the same thing towards others. We TALK so much about God “forgiving” sins, but again, FORGIVING is not having someone ELSE pay. If you owe me money and somebody else pays it, I didn’t forgive you ANYTHING. I didn’t forgive ANYBODY anything. I got “paid”. I balanced a book. I satisfied an imbalance that I believed was more important than you. That’s not LOVE. That’s not about YOU. It’s about ME. It satisfies ME. It makes ME MORE important than YOU. Does that sound like the God revealed by Jesus? When we attached this “financial” way of thinking to God, we make Him much less than what He truly is, and we make it MUCH easier to be unforgiving of each other. Justice (as we understand it – balancing the scales — getting “paid” = retribution) is NOT forgiveness. It’s the OPPOSITE of forgiveness. God doesn’t need to be “paid off” in order to love you or accept you or want to be with you. He went to the cross in the person of Jesus to PROVE that to you. Your sin “debt”, unlike your mortgage, is all in your OWN head. Let it go. God has from the foundations of the cosmos. The books are not balanced because there never WAS any books. In God’s eyes, you are debt free!