?The newspaper headline was just sickening. We saw the picture of State Trooper Calvin Jenks, age 24, whose body had been found beside his cruiser in rural Tipton County. Two suspected drug dealers were arrested and charged with his murder. Calvin had moved to the Memphis area to be near his fiancée, a student at the University of Tennessee Medical School. They married and absolutely adored each other.
Yet after just three months of married life, Calvin was gunned down by criminals.1 That’s not just unfair, it’s absolutely rotten.
Why is life so unfair? Haven’t all of us asked that question at one time or another? Most of us know that God did not cause Trooper Jenks’ death or other awful tragedies. The Bible states clearly that “God does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men” (
Why is life so unfair? One reason is:
We live in a sin-marred world.
In the garden of Eden, there were no tragedies or illnesses or death. It was a paradise. But Adam and Eve rebelled against God and exchanged paradise for a sin-marred world, a place where awful things can and do happen.
This is not only a sin-marred world; it is also a free world. God will not turn us into puppets or robots. To take away our freedom would be to distort our basic humanity. Therefore, God rarely intervenes miraculously to prevent accidents, to stop murderous criminals or to force terrorists to behave. God usually allows natural laws to operate, even when one of those laws causes a disastrous hurricane.
Back when Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, I was conversing with a very good friend, a Presbyterian pastor. With a twinkle in my eye, I said to him, “I sure am glad to be Methodist instead of Presbyterian this week. We Methodists see Katrina as just one more evidence that this is a sin-marred world, but you Presbyterians have to explain how Katrina was part of God’s preordained plan.” Of course, I greatly oversimplified our
God does not play favorites. He does not prevent lightning from striking Americans while leaving Australians unprotected. God “sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (
When our 8-year-old son Aaron first began to develop symptoms of that brain tumor that took his life, his mother was helping him with his bath one evening. He asked her, “Mom, why did this happen to me?” She assured him that we had done nothing to cause it and that God was not angry with us. She told him that this was just an illness that could happen to anybody. We live in a sin-marred world.
That leads to a second question: Why do we feel the pain of this so sharply?
Because God planted in our hearts a vision for justice and equity.
There is within us a vision, however bright or dim, of what a perfect world would look like. Even hardened criminals, who make a living from stealing, get very angry if their partner in crime steals from them. God planted a vision in our heads and hearts of His kingdom in which there is no unfairness and all injustices are corrected.
Even when we get a biblical answer to the question, “Why is life so unfair?” there is a follow-up question.
How can we cope with life’s unfairness?
Surely God knew that we would ask that question. Therefore, He caused to be placed in our Bible the marvelous Book of Job. In that inspired story, God and Satan have a conversation. They agree that the most righteous man on earth is Job. But Satan, essentially, says to God, “No wonder Job is righteous. You have blessed him so bountifully, with health, family and wealth. If You dare to remove all those blessings, he would denounce You.”
“You’re wrong,” said God. “Job loves and trusts Me simply because of who I am, not just because of the blessings he has received.” Satan snorted cynically and said, in effect, “Put Your money where Your mouth is. Take away Job’s blessings and just see what happens.” So God took up that challenge. His protection was withdrawn from Job. In a matter of days Job lost his children, his possessions and his health.
Three friends came to Job. The best thing they did was to sit with him silently for seven days. Once they began speaking, they gave Job more grief than help. They were convinced that Job’s misfortunes had a rational explanation, that he was suffering for some sin he had committed.
Though Job was convinced they were wrong, he was unable to find an alternate answer. Often you hear about the patience of Job. But actually Job did not have lots of patience. He fussed and fumed with God for about 35 chapters in his book, but he did not reject God.
Finally, in chapter 40, we have the climax of the story. God visits Job personally. He gives Job a glimpse of His incredible power and His flawless character. But He does not give Job an answer or an explanation. After meeting God personally, Job no longer needs an explanation.
Here is the bottom line: If you know that God is good and loving and that you are His beloved child, you can cope with unfairness and still live abundantly.
So, armed with biblical truth, let me offer you a coping strategy for dealing with life’s unfairness. The first step is to:
Remember that life is unfair, but God is good. Though God may not intervene when you want Him to, He loves you dearly and wants what is best for you. The psalmist declared long ago, “[Lord], I will meditate on your wonders. … The Lord is near to all who call on him” (
The great Protestant reformer Martin Luther lost a son. His wife, Katie, shouted at him, “Where was God when our son died?”
Martin replied, “The same place He was when His Son died. He was there watching and weeping.”
And just as God brought a resurrection after that crucifixion, He can make sure that the final word on our lives is not about unfairness but about victory. God is love; and if we keep the faith, nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from His love.
Here is step number two:
Stay close enough to God to let Him heal your wounds. One of Satan’s favorite tricks is to slip up to a hurting person and say, “If God really loved you, He would have prevented your pain. So, you ought to despise God.” Satan had a good mouthpiece in Job’s wife. She urged her husband to “curse God and die” (
Satan’s desire is to destroy us, in this world and the next. So, he first tries to separate us from God, our primary source of strength.
A former great preacher in Atlanta, Pierce Harris, lost his wife, Mary, in a tragic auto accident. A few weeks later a man wrote to Dr. Harris and said, “I hope your terrible loss will not destroy your faith.” Dr. Harris said that he felt like writing back to him and saying, “Man, haven’t I lost enough already without throwing away my faith, too? Why should I cast aside the only thing that is keeping me afloat?”
When you are hurting, when life treats you badly, crawl up as close as you can to the One who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (
Here is step number three:
Ask God to bring some good out of your pain. Job had no way of knowing that his story would become an eternal blessing to all future generations of hurting people.
I can only imagine how often those suffering in Hitler’s concentration camps were comforted by the story of Job.
Paul declared that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (
The most outstanding Methodist of the 20th century was, in my opinion, the great missionary to India, E. Stanley Jones. He was converted as a young man. At that time he was working in the law library in a Baltimore courthouse. He lost no time in announcing to his boss that he was a Christian. The boss reacted with scorn and contempt, saying, “I’ll knock that out of you in two weeks.” He meant it; and he tried, using every pressure and tactic imaginable. But all his efforts just made Stanley more resolute.
Later Jones wrote, “I actually grew under his lash. There I got hold of a principle and a power that was to be the driving force in my life. I wouldn’t just bear opposition and difficulties; I would use them! Just as an airplane always takes off, not with the wind but against it, I would make opposition send me up, not down. With the help of Christ, I let trouble lift me rather than destroy me.”2
So, there you have three biblical principles to help you when life is unfair.
• First, remember that though life is unfair, God is good.
• Second, stay close enough to God to let Him heal your wounds.
• Third, ask God to bring some good out of your pain.
Next to the Bible, the book that has helped me most to understand the ways of God is entitled The Will of God by Leslie Weatherhead.
Weatherhead used a strange but very helpful illustration. He said, “Let’s suppose that the toddlers of the world were to have a mass meeting. Let’s suppose that they could communicate quite well. The chairman, after adjusting his bib, might declare, ‘I am sure my parents don’t love me. Look at my knees, all red and scratched. Your knees look as bad as mine. Will someone here propose a motion?’
“Suppose that a chubby little baby raises his hand and says, ‘Mr. Chairman, I move that we protest the carelessness of parents and demand that in the future no furniture can be made that has sharp corners, that all asphalt and other abrasive materials be banished from play areas, and that claws be removed from the paws of all household cats.’ No doubt, such a motion would pass almost unanimously.
“Similarly, we sometimes complain to God saying, ‘Look at my frustrations and sorrow and pain. How can you be so callous? Don’t you care?’ Just as a parent’s perspective is different from a toddler’s, so is God’s perspective different from ours. A delegation of parents could attempt to explain to these toddlers their different perspective, but I have a feeling that they would have a hard time selling it.”
We are growing in maturity when we can say this: “There is much about God and this world that I don’t understand. Some of it can and does break my heart. And if God were to give me all the answers, I’m not sure I could understand them. But I know the character of God because I have experienced Him through Jesus Christ. I know that God loves me. One day, when I meet Him face to face, I’ll ask all my hard questions. But until then, I am simply going to trust Him.”
I love that great Christian hymn written by Charles Albert Tindley entitled “Stand by Me.” Let this be your prayer of faith in the midst of an unfair world.
“When the storms of life are raging, stand by me.
When the storms of life are raging, stand by me.
When the world is tossing me, like a ship upon the sea,
Thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.
In the midst of tribulation, stand by me,
In the midst of tribulation, stand by me.
When the host of hell assail, and my strength begins to fail,
Thou who never lost a battle, stand by me.”
1. The Commercial Appeal, Jan. 8, 2007, p. A-1.
2. Jones, E. Stanley, A Song of Ascents (Abingdon: Nashville, 1968) pp. 36-37.