“What I believe about God is the most important thing about me” --A.W. Tozer
As I looked across the table at her, I could still see the pain in her eyes. She had been rejected years ago, but the hurt was still fresh. Linda Sullivan, my mother-in-law had grown up in a Christian family and had harbored dreams of working with young children, showing them the love of Christ. She met a young man at a Christian youth camp and soon married him. He was going to be a lawyer, but he could have been a pastor. That’s how people felt about him. When they both walked down the aisle it would be the beginning of a great life together.
But, Linda’s dreams were shattered only a few years into her marriage. She was pregnant with their third child when her husband announced that he was walking out on the marriage. He was in love with someone else. Another man.
When I look at her to this day, I see a survivor, a woman who has been through life’s worst trials. Linda had to work two jobs to support her children. She saw two of her children get involved in drugs and alcohol abuse. And three years ago, she nearly died from a quadruple bypass.
When I first heard my mother-in-law’s story, my first thought was, That’s really unfair! All she wanted was a good, Christian family and instead she had to patch together a dysfunctional survival.
When God Isn’t Fair
In a parable He shared with his disciples, Jesus seemed to suggest the very notion the Heavenly Father does not always deal with his children in a way that seem equitable. In Matthew 20, Jesus paints a portrait of the Kingdom that looks and sounds so patently unjust that were it a reality today, most Christians would scream out at the injustice. But, amazingly, Jesus used this as a picture of how God deals with His children.
Jesus tells the story of a farmer, who represents God. Needing to harvest a bumper crop in his vineyard, he goes into the marketplace and hires a crew of laborers. He promises them a fair day’s wage.
Later in the day, he realizes he’ll need more help. So he again goes to the marketplace and hires a few more men looking for work.
He does this several more times and hires his last crew with just an hour of harvesting remaining. But at the end of the day, the master of the vineyard gave each worker the same pay, regardless of how long they worked.
In our world this seems patently unfair. But, when we look at this story through the lens of grace, instead of the unbending scales of justice, we begin to understand the difference between our thinking and God’s. Jesus made the careful, firm argument that what is fair to man isn’t always right in the eyes of God.
You and I would say those who toiled the hardest and longest should be rewarded more. But Jesus saw it differently. Those ungrateful workers might have well been unemployed if not for the opportunity presented by the master of the vineyard.
Is it their right to question his generosity? Weren’t they paid their promised wage? We would scream at the injustice, but we’d be wrong. This parable illustrates the broad theme of Scripture: God’s grace. Just like the idle workers in the marketplace, we were all in a position of need. They were looking for a job, but we are looking for mercy.
The master of the vineyard wasn’t concerned with how long the workers were unemployed—He only knew they needed a job. Similarly, God doesn’t see the amount of sin we carry. In His eyes, we are all sinners in need of salvation. We are all in need of grace.
The Heart of God Revealed At the Cross
Random tragedy and heartbreak seem to point to a God who is either detached from humanity or has no control over the world. However, the true heart of God is revealed at the spectacle that took place 2,000 years ago on a hill called Calvary.