Joseph and the IRS
Yesterday I sat down to finish up my taxes. That’s a rather remarkable sentence because I usually wait until April 14th to begin frantically digging through the box where I keep all my important mail in a wild hunt for W-2s. But this year I started over a month in advance, only to discover that I owed over $700. Discovering that you owe $700 does not naturally compel immediate and decisive action, so there my completed forms sat, taking up space in the top left corner of my laptop between “Paper on Deuteronomy 6:1-9” and “Book Thesis.”
I don’t have a printer in my room, so yesterday I scooped the files up into gmail and sent them on down to the library computer for printing. Grumbling as I laid down homework time upon the alter of civic duty, I opened my file only to have an ominous box with the works “Does not support” flash across the screen. Cursing the computer for its incompatibility with my Mac, I printed the form and began the process of hand-filling it out.
That’s when I discovered a little box known as “Exemptions.” Somehow I’d overlooked that box which reduces your gross income when I filled out the form originally. Instead of owing $700, I now owed $200. Rather relieved, I signed my name to the bottom of it and set it to the side. Next came state taxes.
California was a piece of cake once I figured out my address from last year. Then came Kentucky. Kentucky isn’t so friendly. Directing me to a third-party website, the grumbling arose yet again as I transferred all the information off of the W-2s in my hands to the good people at TaxSlayer.com. As I finally cleared the last hurdle (no, I ‘m not blind, NO I wasn’t born before 1946) another friendly box met me with a little note that read: You’re not a resident, so you can’t eFile. Cursing the backwardness of the state whose capital I can’t even find on a map, I scrolled through all of the forms and finally located the one entitled “NP-760” to print and mail.
And that’s when I saw that my federal taxes had a rebate of $200 on them. That didn’t make any sense. I’m supposed to owe $200, which was $700 an hour before. Unbeknownst to me, part of the Obama stimulus package was a $400 tax credit for low-income workers, which is currently my status in the eyes of Uncle Sam. This information appeared on no tax forms, but was installed in the system for the electronic tax preparation software. Which I never would have used for my federal taxes if Kentucky had its own eFile system like California. And I never would have found my error of overlooking my Exemption status if the computer in the library had been compatible with the form I filled out on my MacBook.
The very things that I cursed for making my life more difficult were ten minutes later saving me $1000, which I’d much rather apply towards tuition than funding some pork bill which allocates tax dollars for experimental surgery on some Senator’s favorite Siamese cat.
It’s humbling to see that even in the smallest aspects of life I don’t know what’s best for me. There I sat, bitterly grumbling about wasting an hour of homework time to fill out forms again. But it was the filling out of those forms yet again that will allow me to continue to pay for the school where a week ago I took an exam on trusting in the sovereignty, providence and kindness of God in every situation. Even tax forms.
I don’t know what’s best for me. So I complain about allergies and the fact that I’m stuck indoors while everyone else is on a 13 mile hike. So I grow discouraged about the fact that I have to work 32 hours a week which reduces my social life to practically zero. So I sigh about the fact that all of my friends are getting engaged (just saw another one today on facebook) and each year just keeps extending my valentineless Valentines Day streak.
It’s not often that we see the blessing and the trial collapsed together so closely as I did yesterday. It was years before Joseph realized why the Lord had allowed him to be tossed in a pit, sold to a tyrant, and locked in a hole in the ground with a bunch of others who actually deserved to be there. And it was millennia before the human race understood why it was important to keep a bunch of squabbling, rapacious brothers alive during a famine that struck the ancient world. If Judah dies, there’s no Jesus. And if there’s no Jesus, there’s no righteousness to give to us. And if there’s no righteousness to give to us, there’s no reconciliation with God.
Maybe things like yesterday happen to compel us to faith when the blessings and the struggle aren’t collapsed so close together. Our understanding is shadowy at best. As William Cowper says so beautifully in God Moves in a Mysterious Way, the song he wrote the very night before the mental illness with which he had battled throughout his life finally overcame him,
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower.