I recently heard a message preached on the need to choose forgiveness over fairness. The congregation was asked to take a moment to reflect on whether we had anyone in our lives that we needed to forgive. I was feeling pretty good about my exceptional magnanimity, since no names were coming to mind. As I probed a bit more deeply, however, I was unhappy to discover some pockets of “acceptable” resentment. There were, without question, instances where I was allowing unforgiveness to remain unaddressed, since it was harbored not toward individuals but toward institutions.
In a situation where a family member, an acquaintance, or even a stranger, has injured us in some way, the need for (and the object of) our forgiveness is clear and unambiguous. There are, however, other situations where we perceive ourselves to have suffered injury from a larger entity, rather than a single person or smaller group, and can therefore feel justified in our resentment.
It might be a failure to be reimbursed by a corporation for a defective product we have purchased, an unjustified rejection of an application for a job or mortgage loan, or, perhaps most commonly, a system of taxation that forces us to fork over a sometimes shocking percentage of our personal earnings to pay for government actions or services with which we have a moral conflict. Sometimes it is simply the shocking percentage itself with which we have a moral conflict!
I am self-employed, and therefore have the obligation to put aside a hefty portion of each check I receive from my customers so that I will have enough on hand to pay my estimated income tax each quarter to federal and state authorities. I also then have to make up any shortfall with an additional personal check by April 15th. I know I feel the burn of paying income tax more now than I did when an employer would withhold it and, kindly, would pass it along to Uncle Sam without it ever touching my hands.
What feelings do I experience when I send in my payments? Usually a dull resignation, gloomy powerlessness, occasionally actual bitterness. And whom am I blaming for this sense of loss? Unseen legislators, with whom I have no personal relationship, who may or may not share my values, whose motives I cannot know, elected by countless faceless people that… and so on.
One thing is clear: I have not often (ever?) sent along my tax dollars with the love and forgiveness to which we are called as followers of Jesus – and I am beginning to think that this is a problem. I believe that the scriptures clearly teach that we are to honor and obey civil authorities and to pay our taxes. We are also taught, however, that God desires not only compliant behavior but pure and compliant hearts.
Resentment and bitterness will bring forth spiritual corrosion no less when held toward the IRS – or any other entity – than when held toward my neighbor. I can no longer tolerate and justify institutional unforgiveness in my heart any more than I can personal unforgiveness. Letting go, and trusting in the One who someday will right all wrongs, will bring healing and peace.
You know, I think I’ll go the second mile and send a few extra bucks to the Treasury. Really.