Summary: To answer the question, we also have to ask: 1. Is God just? 2. Is God impartial? 3. Is God fair?
Life is not fair. Most of us understand that. It was not fair that some children died at birth or had crippling diseases, and I have been allowed to live and enjoy good health. It was not fair that some were born with cerebral palsy and I was able to grasp difficult concepts and get passing grades. It was not fair that some came from abusive homes, while I was born into a loving one. It was not fair that some were born in poverty stricken areas of the world or a family living in poverty here in the United States, while I was born into a middle class home that was able to provide a college education for me. It is not fair that I have a great and loving family who are all living for Christ, while many of my Christian friends have children who have rebelled against the faith, are living dysfunctional lives and are alienated from their parents. It is not fair that we are sitting here in an air-conditioned church enjoying great freedom, prosperity and safety, while many of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world are being severely persecuted for their faith, tortured, killed, ruined financially or even sold into slavery. What if we, as Christians, lived in the Sudan or Lebanon? What if it was we who were living in China and saw our church destroyed by the government and were dragged off to jail for practicing our faith, while at the same time we knew that Christians in other parts of the world were protected, prosperous and free?
Life isn’t fair. But for the most part we get that. As Christians, we understand that this is a fallen world — a world that has fallen away from God. We understand that God has given the people of the world freedom of choice, and the world has exercised that choice to choose against God and his will for their lives and their world. The result of that is that we live in a world where sin, evil and injustice have been invited. This is a fallen world, an imperfect world, and the fallenness of the world effects us all. As a result, life isn’t fair. Some get cancer, and others don’t. Some succeed in life, and others don’t. Some are surrounded by love, and others are surrounded by strife and conflict. It isn’t fair, and there is a reason for it — we are the reason — the human family has rebelled against God and invited sin and evil to be a part of our existence.
But there is another question that is far more difficult. Is God fair? Does he love everyone the same and treat them equally? Let’s ask a series of questions in order to finally attempt to answer this important question. The first question is: Is God just? Is God interested in justice? Well, yes and no. We can all be glad that God does not blindly hand out justice, because if he did, we would all be dead. If perfect justice were done, we would all be headed for hell. Here is justice as expressed by Ezekiel the prophet: “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Justice says that death is the punishment for sin. And the bad new is: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But that statement is immediately followed by these words: “and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Isaiah the prophet also reflected this when he wrote: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). We deserved to die, but someone has died in our place. This is not just. It is not justice; it is mercy; it is grace; it is love. The Psalmist wrote: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:8-10).
I was reading the prophet Hosea this week, and I was wading through the ponderous judgments that God said he was going to bring on Israel because of her disobedience, and then like an oasis in the desert I read these words: “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? . . .My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man — the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath” (Hosea 11:8-9). It was an abrupt interruption in the litany of condemnation. It was like a finding a bright jewel of grace in a dark jungle of judgment. Israel had sinned, and there was no question about whether she deserved judgment, but God was not going to deliver justice, he was going to deliver mercy, forgiveness and healing.