I’m a conservative and enjoy listening to many conservative commentators. However, from time to time I hear or see the slogan “Taxation is Theft.” Many conservatives cling to this because one of the hallmarks of conservatism is small government. We don’t like big government or big taxes. “Taxation is Theft” rings well in the ears of many conservatives and is especially embraced by Libertarians. But I don’t believe taxation is theft, and here’s why:
The normal argument from a Libertarian goes something like this: A man owns his work because he alone owns himself. He does the work and the proceeds of his work belong to him. If someone were to come to his house and demand some of his money, even for a noble cause, he has no obligation to pay. If the man were to force him to pay, we would call that theft (robbery, actually). Carry that same logic to a bigger scale and you see why some people consider taxation to be theft.
But this argument is faulty for two reasons.
First of all, no person owns himself. Everyone lives and is sustained by God Almighty. The idea of completely owning what you make is foolish. Imagine a single mother whose 15-year-old son just got his first job down at the local pizza shop. She struggled for years to buy him clothes, feed him, send him to camp, etc. But when she asks him to help with some of the bills now that he has a job, he says, “No way! I earned this money and it’s mine to do with as I want!” What would you think of such a child?
In the same way, God has graciously provided for us. You may have built your own house, but did you build the trees? You may have fetched the water, but did you form the stream? You may have planted the seed, but did you make the rain or cause the sun to shine? God could instantly turn off all these things and you would have nothing. Don’t say that you are a self-made man. Without God, you would be nothing.
The scriptures bear witness to this:
The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein. – Psalms 24:1
The earth is the Lord’s. What right do you have to anything that is His? Maybe you’re the thief. All the people in the world are His–He made them.
Secondly, government is not a man-made institution but is ordained by God. This is clear in scripture and would be expected of a God who desires peace and order. Government is a good idea and those who think otherwise are declaring themselves wiser than God. And since government is ordained by God, it has the God-given authority to impose taxes on those who are governed.
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God…For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. – Romans 13
Paul was a Jewish man living under Roman occupation. I can’t imagine that this teaching made him a popular fellow among his Jewish friends. But Paul wasn’t making this stuff up to buddy up to the Romans. As a scholar of the Old Testament, Paul knew that it was ‘the Most High [who] rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will’ (Dan 6:25). The powers that be are ordained by God. Whatever law they impose upon us we are obligated to obey–as long as it does not contradict the law of God.
In America, we have the unique privilege of being a part of that power. It is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. If we don’t like the way things are, we have the right to speak up, persuade, lobby, and vote. But after all that is said and done, we are commanded by God to obey the authority that is put in power, whether they be democrat, republican, or whatever. And if we don’t obey, they have the God-given authority to impose sanctions that seem right to them.
Now this doesn’t mean that governments are always good and godly! Of course not! Jesus spoke very negatively of the local powers during His time. He called them a ‘brood of vipers’ and the children of the devil. Yet He told the people to obey them:
The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. – Matthew 23:2
These people, whom Jesus later called a ‘synagogue of Satan,’ held Moses’ seat–the seat of authority. And because of that, Jesus told the people to obey them. Wow!
Of course, we know there are limitations to what we must obey. God must be obeyed first and the government second. The government of God is a higher authority than the government of man. When human government oversteps its bounds, we must, like Peter and John, “obey God rather than men.”
Those individuals in government who abuse their God-given authority will be judged. God will make a quick work of those who oppress the people. But we also will be judged if we disregard what God has commanded us.
What is the conclusion? Pay your taxes. If you don’t like how much you pay, get involved. Lobby, speak, persuade, vote, but don’t get self-righteous and think that you have some exclusive right over all that you do and own. You don’t. You belong to God and everything you have belongs to Him.
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