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 Pursuit of “Truth”

We REALLY want to be right.

Especially in the West, I think this is one of the most important things for people today. Certainly on social media it seems that way. We our literally obsessed with having OUR truth equal objective truth, and we will go to great lengths to prove that it does.

The cry of “fake news” is all about this. We want news that we believe is provable, objective truth, or we label it “fake”.

Even this week’s Trump incident is all about finding out the truth. I think short of a recording of the word (not likely) we will never have more than “he said/he said” to go on. It’s just a matter of who’s story you find most convincing or whom you trust more, which of course, is gonna be different for different folks. But the cry from many is “prove it or go home”. In other words, give me the objective truth or I won’t believe it.

Even in religion, including if not primarily Christianity (in it’s popular form) it’s claimed that having a lack of objective truth WILL ultimately land you in some kind of “bad place”. So, we MUST get things right. It is imperative. Eternity depends on our knowledge of objective truth.

But is this really GOD’S goal for us? Does God expect us to make sure that everything we believe is objective truth? Or else?

I’m not so sure.

Now Jesus DID say He was the way, the truth and the life. (If the Bible is to be believed — let’s just go with “yes” for the sake of our discussion here.)

But the word translated as “truth” is better rendered as “reality”. And notice He didn’t say He SPOKE truth (more on this later), but that He WAS truth (reality). As is common in Jewish thought the “way”, “truth” and “life” are really all about the same idea. So Jesus was saying that HE (His “essence”) was REALITY, was the WAY to be, and was what LIFE was really about. In other words, He was declaring that He was the perfect example for how humanity should see the world and live their lives. He was the REAL WAY OF LIVING!

So, that’s not so much about objective truth, as about a life-changing shift in thinking and “being”. It is “true” because of the fruit it brings to your life, the RESULTS. Jesus said we would be known by our LOVE, not by our TRUTH. Living the “Jesus way” leads to love, and Jesus declared over and over that this was the ultimate goal.

Now, let’s get back to what Jesus said and believed. Was all of it 100% objective truth? We sure want to think so. Why? Because then we have a “standard” to follow for our OWN objective truth claims (at least on the subject of faith). This objective truth standard has then filtered down from Jesus to the Bible, and THIS has now becomes the source of objective truth for most of the Protestant church in the West. If it’s in the Bible, it equals objective truth. If Jesus said (or can be shown to have believed it), it is objective truth. That’s the view that few would challenge.

But I don’t think it’s true. And I don’t think that’s a big problem, either.

Many things in the Bible have fallen on “hard times” in the area of being provable as objective truth. Some will deny that this is so, but that’s only because their very afterlives depend on it. You cannot threaten to pull the foundation of someone’s spiritual life down without expecting a fight. But if we’re really honest, we have to admit the “evidence” is sparse if not non-existent for some of the historical events and people found in scripture.

But Jesus BELIEVED these things (as far as we can tell), so they MUST be true, right?

Well, yes, and no. They certainly COULD be objective truth. Lack of empirical evidence doesn’t DISCLAIM them, but merely casts doubt. But what matters is that to Jesus, they WERE true. They were true to every other Jew of His time, as well. This was the culture that He was born into and was taught from. This was the truth that He knew. As a man, He only had TWO sources of truth — those around Him (His culture/upbringing), and the indwelling Spirit (which likely did not fully “engage” with Him until His baptism) that brought Him revelation as He needed it. Unless the Spirit CONTRADICTED His learned cultural truth, it was still TRUE to Him.

Therefore, there were no lies or deceit in His mouth when He referred to events and people that may or may not have empirically existed, because to HIM, they were “true”. We do the same thing, within our own cultural context. You can see this all over social media. We share the truth WE believe. Sure we would LIKE for it to line up with objective truth (and will argue that it does, presenting whatever facts we believe support us). But for MANY things, we can’t really KNOW. And neither did Jesus. He believed what He was told and what made sense in His culture. If this is not true, then He was not really a man at all. Men can only know the truth they have been taught, either by other men, or by the Spirit’s revelation. Jesus was not given ALL knowledge, as Christ He had laid that ability aside. He was only given the knowledge it was necessary for Him to have to proclaim the message He was here to share. He used the historical things He BELIEVED (and that would have also related to His audience) as a vehicle to convey greater, Spirit-revealed, truths.

Had He KNOWN all truth, and attempted to correct every detail of their historical narrative, he would have been so out of touch with reality (as they understood it) that He would have seemed completely insane and/or a liar (by their understanding of truth). It was hard enough for them to grasp the message of love and reconciliation, etc. that He was sharing without dismantling their historical narratives in the name of declaring only objective truth. It didn’t MATTER if He ALWAYS spoke objective truth. What mattered was that He communicated the subjective experience (the “way/truth/life”) He had with the Father to them, and demonstrated what that relationship MEANT and how to apply that in practical ways. In other words, His real way of living (eternal life, Kingdom living) was the most important truth, not objective truth.

Unfortunately, we have totally lost this knowing through unknowing in the church. We seek for, COMPETE for, and divide and separate our world, including the church, based on truths that WE believe, but can rarely if ever really know for sure that they match objective truth.  But God’s desire for us is to seek HIM, His way/truth/life. That may not look EXACTLY the same in your life as it does in mine. We may even believe different “objective truths”, because we will be at different places in our “way/truth/life” journey. God gives us what’s best for US in the now. We aren’t yet ready for the truth we will receive in ten, twenty or thirty years down the line. But we keep seeking, knowing He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.  And we do not unite within the body around our particular understanding of objective truth. That’s the way of the world, constantly dividing and sub-dividing based on conformity of beliefs. We are united by the life-changing love that flows from Jesus’ real way of living.

So, seek ye first His kingdom (life/way/truth), and all these things will be added unto you (ie. the revelation you need will be given to you in due time). Pursue JESUS, not (empirical) truth. He’s all the truth you will ever need.