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people of praise

God, life not fair, and that’s OK


God is not fair; has never been fair and doesn’t ever intend to be fair.

What a provocative statement. It certainly runs counter to what most people believe about God.

In addition to God not being fair, it can also be said (with much less controversy) that life is not fair. This is easier to accept about life than about God, even though it runs counter to what most people want to believe about life. Permeating our culture is the assumption that fairness can be expected in our business dealings and in our personal relationship with others.

Some time ago, a friend told me how Christmas was celebrated in the home where he grew up. It was important to the parents that each child’s gifts cost exactly the same. If this proved not to be the case, the child receiving the less expensive gift was given money to make up the difference, even though the difference may have been only a few cents. This may be pushing it a bit, nonetheless it does illustrate the importance of fairness in our culture.

In October, my wife and I marked 67 years of being married. These were meaningful, growing and productive years. Five years ago, she was diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s.

What a devastating diagnosis. For the past 2 1/2 years, she has been in a home for those with dementia. I visit her daily and have the heartbreaking task of watching her personhood be taken from her an inch at a time. She no longer can speak, doesn’t recognize friends and doesn’t always know who I am. There is nothing fair about Alzheimer’s.

This may come as a surprise, but Jesus taught that life is not fair. In Matthew, Chapter 20, Jesus told of a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius, or silver coin, a day, he sent them into the vineyard. When he went out about the third hour, he saw others standing in the marketplace, and he said to them, “You go to the vineyard too, and whatsoever is right, I will give you.”

Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the 11th hour he went out and found others standing, and he sent them to the vineyard. And when the evening came, the owner told his steward, “Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with those who were hired last up to those who were hired first.”

Those who were hired in the 11th hour each received a denarius. When those who were hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them received a denarius. Upon receiving it, they grumbled at the owner saying, “These last worked only one hour and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”

Jesus is merely teaching a truth that we are reluctant to hear – that life is not fair and the householder (God) is also not fair.

How can we come to terms with such teaching? The answer is simple. We should greet it with thanksgiving, appreciation and joy. For if salvation required obedience to the commands of God and the teaching of Jesus, then we all would be in trouble. For who could stand before God and say he always loved his enemies, always was pure of heart, never lusted, always forgave 70 times seven, turned the other cheek, went the second mile and blessed those who persecuted him?

In Romans 3:10, we are taught that “none is righteous, no not one.” Since God “reckons righteous apart from works” (Romans 4:5), his salvation becomes possible. For “by grace you have been saved through faith; and this faith is not of your doing but is, also a gift from God lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8).

So let us give thanks for God’s “unfairness” that salvation is given to us who are undeserving but have faith in Christ.

Elvin Miller is a retired United Methodist minister, having served the church for 42 years in Minnesota and Indiana. If you are interested in submitting a column (750 words or less), send it to Terri Richardson, The Journal Gazette, 600 W. Main St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802; fax 461-8893 or email Include your name, religious organization and a phone number where you can be reached. For more information, call 461-8304.