Once we discover that God has joined our tears and can be moved with compassion, the world becomes a very unpredictable place. M. Craig Barnes
Friend, I am not being unfair to you… Don’t I have the right to do what I want with (what is) my own…? Matthew 20:13, 15
When my kids were young and they complained that something we did or didn’t do for them was “unfair,” I usually gave the stock parental response: “Who said it was supposed to be fair? Did I ever say that life here was supposed to be fair?” I don’t think they bought it, but it quieted them for the moment. Then when the sun was obscured in my own life I have to admit I was vexed with the unfairness of it all. Though I knew that God didn’t promise “fair,” my immediate visceral reaction was to cry, “Foul! Unfair!”
As I sat in one of the recliners at the Stanford Infusion Center getting a noxious dose of chemo I looked around the room and took note of an interesting assortment of people in the room. I didn’t know any of the other patients there that day, but we all had something in common – varying degrees of baldness, gauntness, and graying skin. But there were other characteristics not common to us all. Some were rich and some poor, some were attractive and others not so much, some socially adept and others quite inept. I suspected that not everyone in the room were smokers, had a bad diet, or neglected exercise. There were Caucasians, Asians, Hispanics, and African-Americans fighting the disease. One man next to me was studying the Wall Street Journal while a woman across the room was pouring over what looked to be a current tabloid. Cancer is not a disease that only afflicts only a certain “class” of people. Though most of us were middle-aged to Medicare, some were way too young to have been stricken by the equal opportunity villain. I hate it when people get sick who haven’t had enough time to experience much of a life. Talk about unfair!
You can’t always blame it on a certain lifestyle choice or a particular environmental pollutant. Sometimes, when I see an apparently healthy guy whose gut looks like he swallowed a basketball, an enormous cigar hanging from his mouth, and a half-drunk six-pack in his lap, I wonder about the fairness of the universe. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t begrudge him his lifestyle preferences, and of course, I don’t wish for those preferences to make him sick. It’s not so much that I’m jealous of his health in spite of how he treats his body. But I’ve taken pretty good care of my body my whole adult life – notice I said “adult life,” which excludes how I treated my temple as a teenager. But since then I’ve eaten a pretty healthy diet, swam laps in a public pool or worked out at the gym, and walked at least a couple of miles most days. I never smoked, except for all the pot I inhaled in my teens. I just doesn’t seem “fair” to me when others, who have been irresponsible managers of their bodies, live a long healthy life, and I get cancer. OK, maybe I am a little jealous.
I think at the core of this issue of “fairness” in the universe is how we think about God. If we believe that owes us something because we’re good people, then, when he doesn’t pay up, we cry, “Unfair!” But I haven’t seen anything in the Bible that supports the idea that I’m entitled to anything from the Almighty. I owe him, not the other way around.
“We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” Luke 17:10
Grace gives me the opposite of what I deserve, so when I struggle with the feeling that God is in my debt, it helps me to remember that I’m the servant and he’s the served.
“Why me, God?”
“Why not you? Would you rather someone else get sick?”
“OK, you have a point. Make some of the people in this room well. Please.”