Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Just a Reminder

It's not really yours. And, at least according to the tax man, it isn't God's either.

Most of us believe in private property rights. As Americans, and even nominal Christians, we think that such rights are ordained and established by God. Our representative government has a different view. That entity also employs men with badges and weapons to enforce that view.

I'm not talking now about property taxes. Everyone is familiar with that aspect of state ownership of our "property". Nor am I even talking about the "use tax" that many states employ (including my home state) for the "use and enjoyment within the boundaries of the state" of personal property.

No, right now I'm simply talking about everything you own.

The Internal Revenue Code contains numerous provisions for taxing transfers of property. If it is done after you die, it is the estate tax. If you make the transfer during your life, it is subject to a gift tax. Happily, for us peons,* Congress has made exemptions. It has graciously allowed us to give up to $12,000 per person to anyone each year without having to pay tax. (There are other exemptions too.) If an exemption doesn't apply to you, the government claims up to 40%. Actually, if you are moderately wealthy and make a few bad choices, you could be liable for 113% of the gift in certain scenarios.

The important thing is the presumption: you owe the tax unless Congress has granted a special exemption.

One of the classic elements of the right to private property was the power to dispose of it as you wished. But, for a long time, Congress has not recognized such a right. Instead, it considers such a transfer to be a privilege subject to its discretion:

"Like provisions in earlier acts have been generally upheld as imposing a tax on the privilege of transferring the property of a decedent at death. . . ." Chase Nat'l Bank v. US, 278 US 327, 334 (1929).

We can pray that Congress will continue to be merciful. As it is now, we have no real claim of right. Short of a political revolution (or other kind), it is not likely to change.

In the meantime, the sovereign reserves its right to follow history:

And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.

1 Kings 12:11

Nevertheless, the God with whom we have to do, our avenger and our judge, lays a greater claim: ". . . for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof." Psalm 50:12. As we pay obeisance to the rulers of this world, we can still pray and protest, invoking Psalm 2:

Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

*Peon (noun)
. . . a person held in compulsory servitude to a master for the working out of an indebtedness

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Hazardous Hubris

The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way.

-- Psalm 25:9

Nietzsche considered the "will to power" to be the most basic human drive. Our culture implicitly agrees. Having the high hand in any conflict is to feel secure. In all realms of current life, such as finance, law, science, politics, and social relationships, tremendous energy is expended to maintain this upper hand.

This natural desire is no doubt important. It always has been. Cain sought power, his descendant Lamech sought even more. From the wicked kings of Israel to the present moguls of business and politics, the driving force of history seems to be the quest for power.

We who take seriously the coming of God's Kingdom need to be careful about this. It is one thing to claim culture for Christ, it is quite another to do it with a high hand. Arrogance, even in the name of God, is unlikely to garner his favor. In 2 Kings 10, Jehu's zeal in slaughtering the house of Ahab, although commended by God, was not grounded in faith. He "took no heed to walk in the law of the LORD God of Israel with all his heart." v. 31. Because Jehu exalted himself, Hosea ch.1 tells us the kingdom of Israel was to cease.

But the soul that doeth aught with a high hand, whether he be home-born or a soujourner, the same blasphemeth Jehovah; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people.

--Numbers 15:30 (ASV)

As always, there are significant controversies bubbling in the so-called world of reformed Christianity. I have strong opinions on some of them, indifferent opinions on others. Where one has a strong opinion, I think it is important to express it clearly and with reason. But I've been around long enough to know that how you fight makes all the difference. When the counterattack involves name-calling, sanctimonious smugness, and back-handed dismissal, the battle is over. The important thing is not to blow it by responding in kind.

So it goes in all of our conflicts. The battle is the Lord's. A brief review of the word "meek" in the Bible produced this interesting nugget:

Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD'S anger.

-- Zephaniah 2:3

The word for "meek" here in the Hebrew, (ענוי) (transliterated "anavee") means lowly or humbled. But what is interesting is that these meek people "have wrought his judgment." And Zephaniah equates meekness with righteousness, which itself means being in the right both morally and legally.

There is something important here. Being right involves being meek. Meekness, in other words, is not for wilting wimps. It is for those who look to God for protection and seek to glorify only God in their rightness. How difficult it is for us to hold to that while we are tempted to bash our opponents. May our zeal be grounded in meekness. May it not be the zeal of Jehu.

For the LORD taketh pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation.
--Psalm 149:4:

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
-- Matthew 5:5