Is God Fair?
Sometimes the most profound questions come from unexpected places. Upon hearing that a family friend had suddenly died, my son was deeply shaken. His friend was suddenly without a father. He put himself in his friend’s shoes and walked a few blocks. That kind of empathy in a thirteen-year-old boy is a gift. His first words rang clear and with conviction: “God’s not fair!” True, it was a statement but underneath this teenage heart and mind churned the questioning of his trust in a good God.
We’ve heard it—maybe even said it: “Life’s not fair, so get over it.” Along the way most of us have come to terms with this reality of life that fairness, no matter how much we expect it, how much we work for it, is rarely practiced. Our cynicism gives us away. When the message and experience of a loving God warms our hearts and gives birth to faith, it stands to reason that that kind of God would act fairly in our lives and world, right?
It depends on how we understand fairness. My conversation with my son echoes the experiences so many of us have in life when we feel we or those we love have been treated unfairly at work, school, on the freeway, and most anywhere we encounter people and rules that we didn’t make. I’ve learned from my son that when we say something is unfair, what we really mean is that it didn’t go the way we wanted it. With the conviction so many of us have that a loving God is supposed to make life fair (or go well for me), it’s no surprise that we sometimes become disillusioned and disappointed in God when he doesn’t act in ways we think he should.
Webster defines fairness as impartial and free from self-interest or favoritism. Picture an impartial god who shows no favorites. Imagine a god that lacks the personal interest for the good of what he created. According to Webster, my son is right: God isn’t fair.
While we use the word “fair” or “fairness” in our English Bible translations where the words actually infer equal treatment, the Bible actually paints the clear picture of an extremely unfair God. Paul summarizes this picture in Romans 3:24-26. He tells us that God is partial—to all of humanity, especially the broken—and treats each equally. “Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous.” Paul also describes God as personally invested in us and our future. “This sacrifice [Jesus’ sacrifice for sin] shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus."
Paul shares with us his firsthand experience that matches what so many after him have also experienced: an active and radical love that would do anything for the good of what interests Him most: you and me. God is unfair. And I’m glad.