April 15 - tax day - is rapidly approaching. A day that fills many with dread.
I recently helped my son, Noah, do his taxes. He graduated from college in 2016 and was blessed to have a fulltime job right out of college. His taxes for 2016 (filed in 2017) were for six months of fulltime work and so his 2017 taxes (to be filed soon) were his first year of taxes with a fulltime job that was for twelve months.
He was shocked and a little outraged to find that his tax rate as a single person was 28% of his gross income.
I agree that it does seem like a lot.
But then perspective kicks in, which Noah was able to quickly hear given his many years of living in Africa.
He landed a fulltime job right out of university at the age of 22. That is amazing. That is a blessing. He is doing something he enjoys, in his field of study, contributing to the safety of our country. Not many 22 year olds can say that in the world today! [Not to mention the fact that he makes more than I do, at the age of 49; granted, DC is expensive but still!!!]
In Ghana and Nigeria, so many young people are now graduating from university with no jobs available. They are told that doing a small business is "beneath them" as they have a university degree. So they sit at home and wait and hope for a job to come. Because of this, there is an increase in armed robbery and kidnapping, as these youth begin to despair of finding purpose and work. We (at Discipling Marketplace Leaders) are developing an entrepreneurship program to address this challenge. We believe firmly that the Church need to be about training job makers, not just job seekers, so that people can use their creative abilities, made in the image of God, to help people flourish!
While Noah (and many of us) may not be happy about how much of his income is going to taxes, he does know that infrastructure is consistently provided for in his city/state, and will continue to be kept up - roads (okay, some potholes but overall incredibly good roads!), water, free public education, and electricity. The government, while full of it's own issues, is not overtly corrupt with nepotism (you may think I'm naïve, but again, remember that this is about perspective IN COMPARISON to other places). He can sleep safe and secure each night, with a country that does protect it's people (granted, not all people equally, but the majority are able to sleep at night without fear).
Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Is the US the greatest country in the world? Not even close, in my opinion.
But again, can our conversations be seasoned with more grace and perspective, given the reality of many places in the majority world?
I think so.
The challenge of paying taxes is not new. David killed Goliath in part because his family wouldn't have to pay taxes (1 Samuel 17:25). But Jesus is very clear in Matthew 22, that we are to pay to Caesar the things that are Caesars.
Taxes are in place to help level the playing field for all citizens in a country. That is the goal of government. I have seen with my own eyes what happens when countries who pay even higher taxes than the US have no infrastructure, no jobs, and no security, when embezzlement is the order of the day; and when killing of certain people groups by those in government is not only ignored but condoned.
Perspective. It's a wonderful thing. I know that we can always find people who have it "worse than us," and there is a time and place for being legitimately grumpy about circumstances. But despite that, perspective is still helpful.
We live between the "now" and the "not yet."
There is much to be grateful for in North America in the now. But have we arrived? Absolutely not. We are "not yet" where we need to be, and it's good that we continue to voice concerns for injustice and take action as we can. But as we live in this in-between time, let us lend our voice and our prayers also to those who have it much worse. Let us speak with appreciation for what we have here. Let us pay our taxes, grateful for what it provides, and continue to pray and be active in working towards the betterment of our country and our world.