On Sunday, I presented a sermon on Matthew 20:1-16, in which I said that God isn't fair, but gracious. If God were fair, judging us according to what we deserve, none of us would merit His forgiveness.
Or the opportunity to know God's love given in Christ.
Or the chance to spend eternity with God.
We could never be part of God's kingdom.
That's why, Jesus shows in the parable contained in those verses, we should never begrudge the forgiveness and patience God gives to others. He grades the lives of repentant believers in Christ on the same grace curve He employs with all repentant believers in Christ. Only Jesus Christ makes it possible for the human race to experience the unfairness of God's grace and favor and eternity.
But there's another sense in which God may seem unfair and, to tell you the truth, after nearly thirty-five years as a Christian and almost thirty years as a pastor, I can't explain it away. Only try to deal with it.
I'm talking about the seeming unfairness God allows to be visited on those who experience horrible tragedy, despite their faithfulness to Him. Despite their prayers. Despite their desire to live for God and to put God first in their lives.
Their loved ones die too early. Or suffer over long years of pain.
Their grown children turn from parents, God, and the values they've been taught from birth, seeming to mock the words of Proverbs 22:6. ("Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.")
Their marriages become battle zones or somber theaters of quiet sadness and resignation and some Christians in these circumstances feel themselves "trapped" by promises made to God and their mates, although their mates have proven to be far from the loving, committed people they promised they would be.
Their friendships die under the weight of life's numerous obligations and accelerated mobility.
Their careers abruptly end as corporations downsize, relocate, or seek ways to cut their costs.
I don't know why God, Who I have seen intervene in many circumstances that were, from every rational, empirical perspective, completely hopeless, doesn't choose to intervene in more situations. It doesn't seem fair.
I don't have any answers. And it would be presumptuous for me to think that I do.
When Job, in the Old Testament, challenged God to tell him why he, a man whose faith and virtue God Himself had bragged about, had lost all his children, all his property, and all his livestock (and heard his wife advise him to throw in the towel: "Just curse God and die."), God ended up telling Him, in essence: "It is what it is. You wouldn't understand it if I explained it to you."
God didn't deny the unfairness to which Job was subjected. And the unfairness seems to continue. And it can't be explained.
But I am comforted (sometimes) by the following thoughts. Maybe they'll help you too.
First: When we trust in Jesus Christ, we never experience unfairness alone. (Though it can seem that way.)
No one has suffered greater unfairness than Jesus Christ. True God and true man, Jesus was sinless. Yet He suffered and endured a horrible death. He did it voluntarily so that a perfect human being could bear the guilt of us all, killing the power of death over all who turn from their own sins and believe in Him.
Through that act of love and empathy, we can be certain, God gets unfairness. He's been on the receiving end. And this is the God Who promises, "I will be with you always."
Second: It's OK to get mad at God for the unfairness of things. The supposedly patient Job was so angry at the unfairness to which he'd been subjected that he challenged God to a kind of trial in which both would present their cases. Though God ultimately put Job "in his place," He didn't withhold His love or grace from Job for being angry.
You never get mad at a God you don't believe is there. Anger at God is never displayed by an atheist (at least not consciously). Only people who believe in God get mad at God.
God is a good listener. And as long as you're talking to God, even if your words and sentiments are filled with anger at Him. you're giving Him access to your life, an invitation to bring you His peace in the midst of your storms. Romans 8:26-27 says: "...we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints [saints are what the Bible calls repentant believers in Christ] according to the will of God."
Third: When we suffer life's unfairness, we find ourselves equipped to listen to, pray for, and befriend other people, Christians and others, who have experienced that same unfairness. We can, if we allow God's Spirit to soften our hearts, become the empathetic hand and voice of Christ for those whose hurts we more clearly understand because we ourselves have "been there."
A friend of mine has suffered many losses, losses so unfair that I have complained to God about it more than once. She doesn't claim to have made sense of any of it or to not sometimes feeling God has been unfair. But she makes a point of reaching out to others suffering at the hands of life's unfairness. It's become a ministry from God for her and she doesn't really understand how powerful it is.
Fourth: This world is and will remain unfair to all people until the day Christ returns. It's part of the landscape of earthly experience. The universe groans under the weight of sin, death, and darkness. That's why good news of any kind--a kid volunteering at a homeless shelter, a billionaire spending millions to educate young people, a priest starting a community garden that feeds poor people and gives others a sense of purpose--comes as such a surprise to us. We live in a bad news world.
In our bones, we know that we can never count on this world to be fair or to make sense. Especially for those who know the gracious, loving God of the world Who has come to us in Christ. We know that all have been made for more and that only in eternity will we experience all for which we were made.
When our time on earth is done, we can count on God to treat all who have endured in following Christ to the ultimate unfairness: A life of perfect peace, joy, and purpose lived with God and all the saints for all eternity.
That truth, that secure promise, ultimately, is the only thing that enables me to plunge into each day with hope and purpose while living in this unfair world.