Have you ever had someone (whether a child or an adult) protest that something just isn’t fair? I agree that many things in this world aren’t fair, but I also realize that sometimes what I think is unfair is just unfavorable to me! Still, it seems pretty unfair when people who cheat the system get rewarded, and those who work hard struggle to make ends meet. Most people would agree that it is unfair when children get sick while wicked people live in luxury. I think that “unfair” fits the reality that we live in a world that produces enough food for all people, and still have so much hunger because of human-created obstacles.
The unfairness of fallen human beings (and the systems we create) is one thing, but sometimes – like the prophet Jonah – we feel that even God is unfair. When someone – maybe us – thinks that God isn’t “fair”, though, there are two key things that we need to remember.
For one thing, we usually define “fair” by our own human standards, based on our limited human understanding of a situation. When we want God to be “more fair”, we sometimes mean that we want Him to do what we want, even if what we want seems well-intentioned or selfless.
The other thing, though, is that we don’t get to tell God what to do. Yes, He is gracious and listens to our prayers, often answering them in the affirmative. However, we cannot forget the fundamental nature of our relationship with God: He is the creator. We are the created.
Having said that, after reading statements like the following, Jewish people studying Paul’s letter to the Romans (in the years after Jesus returned to Heaven) might object, and say that this seems unfair. (Note that the second sentence here is a statement, not another question.)
What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal.
Romans 9:30-31 NIV
First off, let’s be clear that our righteousness before God is entirely unfair. We don’t deserve righteousness. Jesus didn’t deserve to be punished for our sins. If we insisted on perfect fairness (that is, if we had the right to do so), Jesus would never have suffered and we would be eternally separated from God. Praise Jesus that He chose to take upon Himself an entirely unfair punishment out of love for us (see Romans 5:6-8, for instance).
However, from a human standpoint, don’t we believe that those who work really hard at being righteous should be treated better by God? After all, that is pretty much the claim of every other religion, isn’t it? They say, “Follow these rules, do good things, and you will get into Heaven” (or whatever else paradise is called in that faith). Someone else might say, “Why should a rotten, evil sinner be pronounced righteous before God through faith, while I tried really hard to be good here on earth?”
The next couple of verses in Romans 9 (which I encourage you to go ahead and read for yourself) start to give us more information, but I don’t want to pretend that this is a quick or easy question to answer. For today, I encourage you to talk with God about what you think is unfair in this world, read what He has to say in the book of Romans, and come back for the next article where we take a further look, together.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for January 23, 2022
- The Lookout, January 23, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 2, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1998.