Summary: Life seems unfair to the disappointed, the cheated, the cynical. It was unfair to compel Simon to carry the cross -- injustice piled on. But God uses injustice to stir His people to action, to help us get beyond mere survival, to give us to one another.
Life is not fair. It just isn’t. The playwright MacLeish has his character “J.B.” scream out something we are all afraid to say, but it might be true: “If God is God, He is not good; if God is good, He is not God.”
What an awesome thing to think, let alone speak! “If God is God, He is not good; if God is good, He is not God.” The man in the play, J. B., is a thin disguise for the Biblical character Job, who experienced in a short span more misery, disappointment, and pain than most of us will get in a lifetime. J. B. is struggling with the nice, neat theology he was given as a child – the one that says, “Just believe Jesus, and everything will be all right.” J. B. doesn’t think so. With his business collapsed, his family at his throat, and his friends yapping like dogs at his heels, he doesn’t think everything will be all right. And so his awful cry: “If God is God, He is not good; if God is good, He is not God.”
Think about that. That’s heavy duty. It means that if God can make this go away, and doesn’t, then He must not care. Or, if God cares, but cannot take the pain, then He doesn’t have any power and isn’t worth worshipping. Have you ever thought like that? Not out loud, I expect. Most of us just won’t let ourselves say anything quite that radical. But I’ll bet we’ve felt it. I’ll wager we have felt, in moments of distress and pain, that life is not fair. And maybe that God is either out of it or doesn’t care.
Else why would it be that good people suffer and bad people get the goodies? Else why would it be that callous, sinful, spiteful people pile up wealth and power, and the real saints, the salt-of-the-earth people, end up with sickness, debt, pain, and injustice? Else why would it be that so many things happen to us, and we feel powerless, we feel abandoned and alone? Just this week, it seems like I’ve heard that story in so many different ways – just this week, among us, people finding things unraveling, and they cannot stop it! Why is it that life is not fair? And what is God going to do about it, if anything?
The city had been tense all week. From the moment when word had spread through the streets that the famous teacher was on his way, strong feelings had run like rivers through the lanes of Jerusalem. The teacher, the one who had worked wonders up and down the length of Galilee; what would happen here when the priests and Pilate’s powers put the pedal to the metal against him? What could we expect?
Some said that when the teacher would arrive in Jerusalem, God would break open the very gates of heaven, and send legions of angels to rout the Romans. Enough reason to spread palm branches and shout “Hosanna” as he rode in! There are always people who keep on hoping that God will do something spectacular, there are always people who look for miracles.
Others said no, God won’t deal with the Romans. God will deal with the Temple and will put down its high-and-mighty, money-grubbing priests. The teacher Himself had promised to tear down the Temple with His own hands and then build it again in three days! Now that would be worth seeing! There are always people who feel that somebody is to blame and somebody should be punished. Life is unfair, so somebody has to pay!
But still others smiled cynically and suggested that this city had seen Messiahs come and Messiahs go, and that this one would be no different. This one would, like all the others, promise the world and deliver precisely nothing. This one would, like all the others before him, stir up hot-headed young men always ready for a fight – why, one of his disciples is in the Zealot movement, another one is a big blustery fisherman who would just as soon punch you out as look at you, and a third is a slimy fellow with an assassin’s face and a greedy look toward your purse. The pundits of Jerusalem, who knew everything days before it happened, just knew that this fellow would meet a quick end, like all the others. There are always those who put pain on the sidelines and refuse to expect anything. All they know is that life is not fair and that’s all there is to it. Period, end of sentence.
And so there they were, all lined up. The hopeful, the cheated, the cynical. All sorts of people for whom life had not been fair. They lined the streets to watch the end for another of those haggard beggars. The procession rounded a corner. You could see him now, the teacher. Staggering under the load of a great beam of wood. Stumbling barefoot over the uneven paving blocks in the street. Sweating under the rising sun of an April day, just getting warmer. Half-blinded by streaks of blood in his eyes, dripping down from punctures made by a twist of thorn-twigs pushed down on his brow. It’s a long way from here to the place of a skull. Can he make it? Will he be able to carry this load? It’s not fair to make a man carry the instrument of his own execution; but then life itself is not fair. Nothing is fair. Maybe God is not fair.