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God and my taxes: Attitude, actions and integrity

Do your tax-time prayers need a “divine” adjustment?

The semi-retired farmer was completely sincere as he handed me his previous tax return. “Each year before I do my taxes I ask God to show me how to do them right,” he stated.

It took only a minute to spot numerous errors and conclude that God had not answered his humble prayer. My silent response: “You prayed the wrong prayer, mister. You should have asked God to guide you to a good accountant.”

It’s been several decades since my meeting with the earnest, albeit misguided, farmer. But every year I meet people whose actions demonstrate their tax-time prayers are off the mark.

Here’s a sampling of the ill-considered prayers I’ve encountered.

“Dear Lord, please keep Canada Revenue Agency from doing an audit. I’m concerned they would disallow some of the expenses I’ve claimed.”

“God, you know I’m poor and don’t waste my money. Please forgive me for not reporting my tips and self-employed income on my tax return.”

“The tax shelter salesman sounded so sincere and knowledgeable. Lord, you know I’m just trying to be a good steward of the money you’ve entrusted me with. Please allow the tax deductions to succeed as filed.”

“Dear God, you know how much I hate bookkeeping. Please help my accountant get the numbers right in spite of my messy and incomplete records.”

“You know I trust my accountant to do my taxes right, Jesus. Surely it’s not my problem if he makes mistakes (especially if they save me taxes).”

Perhaps the most “holy” prayer is used by many who simply dislike paying taxes: “The government wastes the money I give them. The less they get from me, the less they have to waste.”

To be clear, helping people save taxes is part of my job. The tax system is complex with lots of “grey area” decisions and I don’t always get it right. And it’s easy to miss a deduction or credit—or just make a simple mistake. But I strive to do the “taxpayer vs. taxman” balancing act with integrity.

Some of the tax-time prayers and actions of God’s children need a divine adjustment. Many raise questions of integrity and self-justification. Wishful thinking does not make something true, even if you repeat it often enough to convince yourself. If a tax scheme sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And ignorance at tax-time is not bliss, even if it is sincere or supported by fervent prayer. Read Romans 13:1-7 to refresh your memory on God’s view of governments and taxes and your responsibility as a citizen.

The Pharisees thought they had Jesus cornered when they asked, “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” This was not merely a financial question. The Roman government was despised more than you can imagine. But Jesus didn’t hesitate. Reviled or not, Caesar and his henchmen needed to be paid their due.

What about you? Imagine that each year God would give you a written tax audit report. What would it say?

Henry Friesen is a chartered accountant who files his taxes near Winnipeg, Manitoba. 

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About the author

Henry Friesen is a chartered accountant who lives in a small town near Winnipeg, Manitoba.