Thursday, September 27, 2007

Is God Fair?

(Disclaimer: I have permission to share the following!) Yesterday, I received an e-mail from someone who is struggling with faith in God. The e-mail asked the following question:
i really am not sure where i am with God. well as you know that is not anything new but my thoughts are. so here it is--is God fair--at least to Mary---and maybe to us all---God tells Mary a virgin that she is preg.--and that he is the father..embrassing to tell friends as they think it is Joseph--not fair to Joseph--he had not even been with her but he takes the fall, they haveto leave and at times run for thier lives, they have the perfect son who tells them so when he is left behind and they are worried and could you image being the perfect one"s sister? and then joseph is killed off somehow and mary is left alone and then she has to see her son killed the way he was--as no one else would ever be--and to be innocent and to be left in the world alone. was God fair to her? it seems that she paid a hugh cost to bare his son... maybe i am on my way to hell for thinking this way--i do not know. i do know i do not understand my God. I know no one does and maybe that is my problem and always has been. i try and place everything in black and white ( how i wish i had never been baptist!) but i feel if God loved Mary so little as to put that on her how can he said that he loves me like a father loves his child? does a father not want to take away the pain not cause more? am i just too much in my head again? i feel my life is not where it should be--i see the wrong going on around me--i am trying so hard to do what i think is the right thing to do and yes in my l. world i want justice! don't we all? and yes i will except my justice--just give me the punishment and let me get it over with. i never thought i would ever been where i am tonight--questioning my God, my faith ( whatever is left of it) and not really knowing me.

I think the writer asks a very good question--Is God fair? And is fairness the same as justice?
Here is my response:
Well, let me first share that you aren’t anywhere that most Christians with any strength to their faith have not been at one time or another. There is a whole segment of theology called ‘theodicy” that asks these very questions—Not just why do bad things happen to good people but also what does it mean to say God is loving and just in light of this world we live in. These are good questions to ask and they have everything to do with the character of God. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to these questions.
Personally, I don’t think God is fair. The Bible doesn’t even make that claim. In fact, I honestly don’t know what “fair” is or what it would look like. When my kids complain that something isn’t “fair,’ it generally means something didn’t happen the way they thought it should happen. Sometimes it is because no everybody is treated the same (despite circumstances) and other times it is because people are not treated differently. But the Bible is pretty clear that God is not fair in the way we think of fairness. Just read Jesus’ parables—the parable of the talents (is it fair that one gets 10, one 5, one only 1, and we can presume many without any at all?), the parable of the wages where those that work all day get the same pay as those who show up at the end of the day, etc. Actually, Jesus’ parables generally focus on something that isn’t fair to conventional wisdom.
But the Bible does promise that God is loving and just.
Which gets us to your questions about Mary and Joseph. I can’t answer for your heart, but I can share what I see in that story. First, I believe both mary and Joseph made choices. Mary said, “Let it be.” And Joseph didn’t say much but he responded in obedience and broke all the rules in marrying Mary and raising Jesus. Was it fair what God asked? No. Was it just and loving? Well, if we just look at Mary and Joseph, perhaps not. But when we look at the world—the bigger picture—then it definitely was.
What God clearly asks is for us to be willing to sacrifice—to endure pain and suffering—for the sake of others. And where the fairness comes in is that he doesn’t ask anything of us that he wasn’t willing to do himself. Mary and Joseph’s sacrifices were nothing compared to Jesus’!
I read a quote today that was so appropriate to this conversation. Dorothy Sayers said, “Whatever game [God] is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself.”

What do you think--Is God fair? Is God just? Is there a difference?


Marty said...

I hope you don't take this as dismissing your questions. The following is what your question stirred up in me ... and I appreciate the chance to struggle with the question of fairness with you, so here we go:

She could have said no. He could have said no and undoubtedly God would have gone to another … instead of Mary and Joseph, it could have been Olivia and Andrew … but, whoever said “yes” had no idea what was coming. They DID know that by saying yes, that no matter what, God was with them … and was there to sustain them, even in the hardest of times. And the other thing they knew by God’s question is that he had faith in them to accomplish what he was asking.

What they said “yes” to in the immediate was a relationship of love. You see I don’t think love is just the physical attraction, but love is the continual action of sacrifice, service, relationship, tears, joy and LIFE with another. It is thinking of anothers welfare before you think of what could please you. And so what God offered was a life of love. And with that comes all of the joys and tragedies of life; life abundant with those you have chosen to live and love with. Is it fair? I think I might have to have a broader view of the cosmos than my own little corner. But while I am asking, “Is it fair?” what am I missing? If I get stuck in the fairness of life, can I go on to the potential abundance of what is there by God’s grace? Without Jesus, Joseph still would have died. Without Jesus, Mary would still experience a life that was not fair under Roman oppression. Without Jesus, they would have receded into historical anonymity that would be comfortable to most of us. But instead God asked and they both responded in their own way, “let it be.” And what they got, was a child, God in the flesh to physically raise and love and share in an uncertain time of political and religious unrest. They got Jesus, who like all sons, obeyed by doing his mother’s bidding at a wedding and at other times, when they came to get him because they thought he was crazy, denounced them; scared his parents by staying in the temple instead of traveling home with them, and in his final torturous moments consigned his mother to another’s care out of love and concern for her final days. Was it worth it? I suspect if we were able to ask Mary or Joseph if they would do it again after a lifetime with Jesus, the son, that there would be no hesitancy; they would respond without reserve, “let it be!” Can I do as well or does God look at me sometimes and say, “It’s not fair; I created her for so much more.”

Sherill said...

The original question and Marty's response brings to mind one of my favorite quotes:

...I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903
in Letters to a Young Poet