Monday, May 3

On Taxes and Cat Tags

Here in Canada, our deadline for filing income taxes was just last Friday, and we have three taxpayers in our family, so there was a whole lotta form filin' goin' on in this house. I paid heftier than usual taxes this year due to a certain lump sum settlement. I paid them grudgingly, mumbling about how unfair it was, and feeling perfectly justified in my complaints.

So I was a bit taken aback last night when I was reading the section on Romans 13:1-7 and subjection to civil authority in Herman Ridderbos's Paul: An Outline of His Theology. Ridderbos points out that this portion of scripture, which includes a part about paying our taxes, is a subdivision of the section of Romans that starts in 12:1, which tells us we are to present our bodies to God as a spiritual service to Him:
Viewed in this context Paul's intention becomes more transparent: obedience to earthly authorities is also involved in what Romans 12:1ff calls the spiritual sacrificial service, the placing of oneself at the service of God in virtue of the mercy of God shown to the church. This obedience is a submitting of oneself to the order appointed by God. (page 321)
If I had thought of paying my taxes as part of my spiritual service instead of some sort of necessary evil, I'm pretty sure I would have grumbled a little less, at least I hope I would have. Of course I might have excused my griping by saying that the government spends my money on all sorts of things that are not right, or wasteful, or whatever, but Paul doesn't seem to even hint at these things being valid excuses, does he?

I suppose we could argue that Paul was speaking only of good government; but how could he have been, given what the church had already suffered at the hands of their rulers? Paul knew full well from his own experience that rulers could and did do very unjust things, and yet he still makes a blanket statement about submitting to our rulers. Ridderbos also points out that this command to submit to governing authorities is not founded on "what is to be expected from civil authorities, but what one owes them for God's sake" (page 322). So any particular government's misdeeds, although they may be grounds for strong disagreement, are not grounds for either rebellious action or attitude; for any rebelliousness is not only rebelliousness against that particular civil authority, but is also rebelliousness against God himself.

Of course there may be times when governments make laws that cannot be rightly obeyed because those laws require disobedience to God's own laws. In that case, disobedience is demanded of us, but even that required disobedience should be carried out with a humble rather than defiant attitude.

Paying my taxes, though, is a pretty simple issue. The government can collect taxes, and I need to pay them willingly as part of my spiritual service to God, in order to avoid the judicial wrath of the government and also "for conscience sake."

So I guess I can no longer refuse to license my almost always indoor cats because I think the new cat licensing bylaw is a stupid law put into force by a cat-hating and money-hungry city council. Right? Paying for kitty tags, it seems, is my spiritual service, too.

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