“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.
First, God’s is infinitely just. And from the Garden of Eden to the present day, all men have sinned and violated God’s holy order (Romans 3:23). No matter how small, this sin has a penalty—death, separation from God forever (Romans 6:23).
Yet, while the cross reveals God’s justice, it also reveals His great love. God sent His son, Jesus to take the punishment for man’s sin because man couldn’t possibly redeem himself. (2 Corinthians 5:21). This was the greatest act of love (1 John 4:9).
This was the greatest agony for the heart of a holy God wasn’t watching his Son beaten to a pulp and crucified; it was in the knowledge that His perfect Son would assume all the sin of mankind.
These actions don’t strike me as terribly fair. The crucifixion was the greatest injustice in the history of the world. And yet, it was allowed by God for the payment of our sin.
What Do We Deserve?
So in light of the cross, what really do we deserve? Anyone who has been redeemed by God can no longer view themselves as having been treated unfairly by God. The gift of His son at salvation was both a gift we never deserved and yet a terrible injustice on our account. The reality is that we are not owed anything by God. Instead we owe Him a debt of love we can never repay. The hymn, “Come Thou Fount” says it best in its third verse:
“O to grace how great a debtor
daily I'm constrained to be!”
Grace gives us the proper perspective on life’s seeming injustices. As hard as it is to fathom, the most tragedy-struck Christian has tasted overwhelming amounts of God’s grace. More than even that soul deserved.
So if we were to be completely honest, we wouldn’t want God to be fair. If He was, then He wouldn’t have sent Jesus to pay for our sins and we would be bound for a hopeless eternity. And He wouldn’t walk beside us daily, giving us strength. He wouldn’t extend His hand of forgiveness when we fail.
Instead, we should be glad we serve a God who is right.
Because we’re not getting what we deserve. Nobody who walks this earth is. Instead, we’re getting something far greater. His grace.
So, Is God Fair?
So, when I look again at Linda, my mother-in-law, I can’t say that God has been “fair” in our sense of the word. But, in her life, He has been right. And she doesn’t blame God for her husband’s unfaithfulness and the other trials she’s had to endure. Instead, she praises God for walking with her through those dark valleys and giving the grace to solider on.
Sadly, many Christians in America, walk around feeling as though they’ve been cheated. They ask questions like, “Why can’t I be healthy like others?” or “Why does God allow him or her to be married?” or “Why couldn’t have I been born into a wealthy family?”
Unfortunately, the church itself has become an unwitting accomplice in this unbiblical thought process. We’ve tried to market Christianity as the better alternative, where life will be more successful. This may be true, but we must realize that Christianity is not about benefiting and taking and getting more of what we want out of a cosmic, vending-machine God. It’s about worshipping a God who has given us far more grace than we deserve. It’s about following the example of Jesus in sacrificing for the good of others.
We should view everything we’ve got in life as a gift from God, not complain when things don’t go our way.
Because thankfully, we don’t have a God who is fair, but a Heavenly Father who is always right.