A few days ago I posted something on Facebook that caused some controversy. It was a reflection on an issue that’s extremely controversial—how we discuss our varying responses to the current pandemic. The whole world is worked up about this pandemic, because it’s global, and significant, and consequential.
As often happens, the comments turned back to arguing about the issue rather than about how we discuss the issue, which was my original point—and the hostility of the discussion pretty well made my point, which was that some things are more important than other very important things—that some things are infinitely important.
Years ago I had an experience that significantly changed my thinking about this principle. My father got involved in a tax-protest movement and stopped filing his taxes. I got to thinking about doing the same thing.
I was young—just out of college and into grad school—and at that moment I did one of the very few wise things I did in those days.
I went to see Dr. Panosian.
He was the chairman of the History Department at BJU at the time, and one of the school’s most well-respected professors. I thought his advice would be wise.
So I sat in his office and explained what the movement was all about and asked him what he thought.
He leaned back in his chair, looked off into the distance for a few seconds, and in that remarkably deep and sonorous voice, he spoke words that changed my life.
“Dan,” he said, “someday you’re going to die.”
And I wondered, what does that have to do with tax protest?
“And when you die,” he continued, “you’re going to be remembered for something. You need to decide whether this is what you want to be remembered for.”
And with those three brief sentences, uttered in less than 30 seconds, he expressed such concise and clear wisdom that I was ashamed that I had needed his help in the first place. I should have been able to figure that out myself. What a stupid question I had asked.
When my death notice comes out, do I want people to say, “Oh, yeah, Dan. He was that tax protestor, wasn’t he?”
Not in a million years.
I want them to say, “Oh, yeah, Dan. He believed Jesus. He studied his Word and taught it to others. I’m happier and closer to Jesus because of something he said once. I’m glad our paths crossed.”
Since then, I’ve been a lot less inclined to get all fired up about less important stuff. I get involved in righteous causes, of course; but I can’t find myself getting all riled up about the Outrage of the Day. I have overriding responsibilities, and confidence in the good plan of the One who gave them to me.
That brings grace. Mercy. Peace.
It brings joy. Confident expectation (“hope,” in the biblical sense).
And focus. Focus on the long view, the eternal issues, the most important goal. Strategery.
You might be wondering what happened to my Dad.
Eventually he got under conviction for breaking the law and turned himself in.
The IRS said, “Don’t leave town; we’ll look into your case and get back to you.”
A few weeks later they called him in.
They said, “Mr. Olinger, your case is very interesting. You worked a union job at the Boston paper before you retired, didn’t you?” Yep. Linotype operator at the Herald American. Closed shop.
“And you held your union seniority after you retired.” Yep. A little union trick. You don’t quit your job; you put on a “permanent sub.”
“And then Rupert Murdock came in and bought the paper—and with it he bought out all the union contracts with a cash payment.” Yep.
“Your buyout check was handled through the union office in Boston, where they withheld taxes on the settlement based on your union income level, before they sent it on to you.” Yep.
“Well, Mr. Olinger, we’ve determined that since you’re retired now and not making as much as you were in the union job, you were over-withheld on that buyout check. Here’s what we owe you. Have a nice day.”
Now, I know what was going on there. Dad had no assets for them to recover, and they knew it. So they showed mercy and grace, figuring that he’d tell his tax protester friends and that some bigger fish would be enticed by his story to turn themselves in. The IRS was thinking strategically, far beyond the current case.
The children of this world are often wiser than the children of light.