Grace from an unlikely place: the IRS

I have a friend who has been getting threatening letters from the Internal Revenue Service.

This person owes several thousand dollars in back taxes going back years. They thought they had made an agreement with the IRS to forestall collections because they are in a situation where they can’t afford to pay anything to them.

However, my friend decided to make inroads in their debt and set up a payment plan.  Unfortunately, when they made a payment it triggered the renewal of the billing from the IRS. When my friend missed a payment, they began to receive notices that their property might be seized.

Given that they don’t have any property, this wasn’t that terrible to them, but they were concerned that whatever paltry funds they had in their bank account would be seized.  So a phone call to the IRS was made to work something out.

My friend told me that initially the IRS agent’s behavior was what he expected. He was a strong-voiced male who was aggressive and somewhat condescending. The agent even said to my friend that no matter what his story was, it wouldn’t change the state of his debt. There appeared to be no hope of reasoning with the man.

Then my friend got a word in edgewise and was able to tell the agent that he was sick and unable to work. The man’s tone changed right then and there.

His voice became soft and he said that it was a simple matter.  The agent said he would arrange to put my friend in a category for people who are unable to pay. He said this would end the foreboding notices from the IRS.

My friend told me that tears began to stream down their face. They have had a large number  of setbacks and they realized in that moment how this IRS bill had pushed them to the edge. It was all too overwhelming. When the IRS agent released them from the impact of their debt, it was as if a huge burden was removed from their shoulders.

My friend told the IRS agent, “You are a good man.” The conversation ended with both persons relaying good wishes to each other.

It occurred to me after I heard this account that my friend’s conversation with this IRS fellow was similar to our contacts with God.  We approach Him with fear and apprehension, hoping that we might receive mercy but expecting to get whacked. Then after we tell God all about our problems, He surprisingly  comforts  and helps us. We experience His grace.

We Americans would really rather not deal with the IRS because we see the agency as kind of a Gestapo, waiting to pounce on us and ruin our lives.  The truth is that there are policies and people in this government department that actually are there to give us aid when we need it. The same holds true in a lot of other organizations we normally perceive as threatening.

I understand I have the same misconceptions about God that I do about these entities. I look at my life and view God’s track record with me and think, “Why should I go to Him with my problems?  He’ll just require things of me or take away my freedom.” This kind of attitude doesn’t lead to trust, which is something that God DOES want.

My sourcebook on God, the Bible, says He IS worthy of being trusted. However, I tend to blame Him for what in many cases are self-inflicted wounds, so I won’t give Him the trust He deserves.

I have heard it said that we get our ideas about who God is from our parents. God IS called Father in the Scriptures, so this makes sense. Sadly, while our own Dads may have good qualities, they tend to also carry human weaknesses as well.  Their sins give us a false impression of our Heavenly Father.

But God the Father ISN’T like our earthly fathers. He’s perfect in his love and in His other characteristics. He doesn’t make mistakes. So I CAN trust Him.

As one of my bosses once used to ask when his staff screwed up, “WHAT can we learn from this?”

What I learn from my friend’s narrative and my own experience is that things are not always as they seem.  Government agents aren’t all storm troopers. God is NOT an ogre.

My friend told me that after he got off the phone with the IRS that a story from the Bible came to mind. It’s a parable Jesus told about an unforgiving servant.

Jesus said that there was a king that decided to sell a servant and his family into slavery after the man could not pay a huge debt. After imploring the king to have patience with him, the king had  compassion and forgave the man his debt.

However, the servant who had received mercy went right out and harassed a subordinate of his for a small sum he was owed. When the man cried out for aid, the wicked servant had the poor sap tossed in prison.

When the king found out about his own servant’s actions, he delivered the ungrateful knave over to “tormentors” until he could pay.

Jesus had an application at the end of his parable. He said, “So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don’t each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds.”

My friend is determined to pay forward the grace shown to him by the government. In his own attitude and actions he wants to be a person of mercy and forgiveness.

We all have to live with each other in the midst of the strife of this world. How much easier it would be if we could show the same kind of grace to each other that  the IRS showed to my friend.

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