Summary: If God is just why is life so unfair?
Life isn’t fair?
“Life isn’t fair!” How often have you heard those words spoken? We read ‘unfair’ news stories everyday. Widows and pensioners defrauded of their life savings; young women attacked and raped; young men killed or maimed in car accidents; refugees from yet another war in Africa dying of starvation or disease. The list is endless.
It’s stories like these that raise one of the most difficult questions in our Christian faith – if God is just, why is life so unfair?
Most of us from our childhood have been brought up to believe both these truths.
Firstly that God is just. Throughout the Old Testament we read time and time again of the Israelites being punished, but it is always as a result of their rebellion. Even the very basis of our salvation – Jesus’ death for our sins – is premised on the fact that God requires justice to be done.
When it comes to fairness this is something that was probably instilled into most of us by our parents. For those of you who have a younger brother or sister I’m sure that you were told on many occasions, “Come on, play fair!” In fact probably one of the rites of passage from youth to adulthood is the realization that life isn’t the way our parents tried to teach us – it’s not fair.
So how do we as Christians reconcile these concepts when we are faced with seemingly unjustified tragedy? How do we explain it when good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to those who seem to least deserve it? “Life isn’t fair” we say. And by our human definition it isn’t. But it’s when we try to impose that same definition of fairness onto God that we run into problems. God is fair, but He is fair by His standards, not ours, and, try as we might, we find it difficult, if not impossible, to understand His standards.
Let me give you one example of where we may struggle to understand God’s standard of fairness. In Romans 2 and verse 11 we read that “God does not show favourtism.” If that is true then surely in terms of human talents we should all be more or less equal especially as we are told in Psalm 139 that “God created me in my inmost being, He knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”
Therefore wouldn’t it be fair, if God doesn’t show favourtism, that He would make me with the same amount of talent as the next person? Yet it is demonstrably true that we are not all equal. I can never play rugby like Bryan Habana; I can never understand the theory of relativity like Albert Einstein; I can never care for others like Mother Theresa and even, at a more mundane level, I can’t even draw someone’s face so you could recognize it, let alone call myself an artist. We are simply not all equal. Yet we are told God does not show favourtism.
How do we explain this conundrum? Again it’s a problem of our limited definition of fairness. The moment we consider the absence of favourtism in the distribution of talent, then invariably it’s all about ourselves being as talented as the next person. But obviously that’s not the way God sees it. For Him I believe it’s all about love. He delights in the diversity and inequality He gave us, while, at the same time, seeing equal value in all of us. He does not love us more, or less, on the basis of talent but sees us all as His children – all of us more, or less, gifted but all of us loved equally, without favourites.
Again and again we run into this problem of our definition versus God’s definition. If God is just, by our definition, then life’s not fair, again by our definition. And, if we are brutally honest with ourselves, we very often think that our definitions of justice and fairness are better than God’s.
The fact is that, as we go through life, our definition of what is fair will be tested - just as Job’s was – though I hope for all our sakes in a less dramatic fashion! God will do things we don’t understand and things that we least expect. We will witness the wicked prosper and the godly brought low. What God is asking of us, as His children, is to continue to believe the promise of Romans 8: 28 “All things work together for good to those who love God..” and as a result of that belief to keep refining our definition of what is fair to be more and more in line with His own.
You see the truth is that, as humans, we are caught in the trap of time. As much as we recognize that every action and event has a consequence, we can only see those consequences in the time frame in which we are living. It’s rather like the way successive generations rewrite the history books with the benefit of hindsight.