The abused wife thinks her life will get better if she tries harder to please her husband.
The employee figures that as long as he is doing his job he’ll never get fired, or laid off.
Women believe that eventually “equal opportunity” or “equal pay for work of equal value” will become reality.
It doesn’t always work that way. Life isn’t always fair.
As you read the story of Joseph Scriven, the author of the words to What A Friend We Have in Jesus, you are reminded that the unexpected happens, loss is inevitable, and that there are no guarantees outside of the absolute truths of Scripture.
The question remains: “What can I do when life presents me with one of these unfair situations?”
We want God to explain. But often the heavens are silent. He ignores our pleas, and pays no attention to our fists raised in anger (which is a very good thing!).
It’s a test! Like every test, the teacher doesn’t give us the answers until after we have turned in our papers. Alfred Edersheim wrote: “For God to explain a trial would be to destroy its object...simple faith and implicit obedience.”
But then comes the thorny question of how to forgive when there might be no possibility of the situation becoming “fair” as a result?
LIFE IS NEVER FAIR
We look at a sample of such a situation in 2 Samuel 16:5-12.
The story takes place in the days when David was king of Israel. At this point in his reign, David was having plenty of trouble with his children. In fact, one of his sons, Absalom, conspired against his father and tried to seize the throne for himself. As a result David fled Jerusalem just as Absalom was entering it.
Some people like to follow the old adage and “kick a man when he’s down.” This was David’s experience. As he journeyed away from Jerusalem, a man who had held a grudge against David for many years because of Saul’s death, came out to the road to throw stones at David and call him names (2 Samuel 16, 7, 8).
Under normal circumstances such an action invites retaliation. David’s supporters were ready to trounce the offender and teach him some manners, but David’s response to the offense, and to the enthusiasm of his followers, is unusual.
Verse 10 says “But the king said, ‘What do you and I have in common, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’”
That presents us with an interesting question. We may believe that persecution or abuse or whatever the evil might be, comes ultimately from Satan, sometimes through people. But we also know that even Satan cannot do anything unless God allows him, and then only under the conditions that God sets. The example of Job (Job 1:6-2:10) and Peter (Luke 22:31, 32) come immediately to mind. So David’s response here is correct. God had allowed Shimei to curse David and to throw stones, so David was willing to take the abuse because God had permitted it. It wasn’t fair from a human perspective, but David understood that there was a purpose behind it that he was not aware of.
It’s this “other perspective” that we need to pursue. What God does, or doesn’t do, often mystifies us. It isn’t humanly possible for us to perfectly see things from God’s perspective because His ways and His thoughts are far beyond ours. Isaiah reminds us of this truth: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.’ declares the Lord.” Just how distant one is from the other is described in the following verse: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8, 9).
But as hard as it might be to see things from God’s perspective, it is to our benefit to try our best to do just that.
Isaiah 46:8-11 tells us: “Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.”
The context of these verses is important. God is delivering a message to His people that He will raise up someone who will be His instrument of discipline on Israel because of her disobedience. While God’s discipline of us may not be the reason for the unfairness in our lives (it can be, but isn’t always) the point of this passage is that there is no other God, and that our God will accomplish His purposes just as He decides and just as He has planned. In Israel’s case, God would use a pagan king to do that, reminding us that God uses for His purposes even those who do not acknowledge Him.
When we look at the unfair circumstances of our lives we need to remember that God has complete control over those circumstances and uses them for His purposes.
In Lamentations 3:37, 38, Jeremiah the prophet writes: “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” Once again the context is one of disciplining those who have rebelled against God. But the basic principle in all situations is true that nothing happens, good or bad, unless allowed by God.
LESSONS FROM A SOVEREIGN GOD
I mentioned Job earlier. We need to return to Job 1 to look at this man’s story a little more carefully. The ironic thing is that we know the backstory to Job’s horrific experience—but Job had no idea what the reasons behind his suffering and loss were. No one could blame him for thinking that life was unfair.
Read Job 1:6-22.
Notice what happens in verse 8 after Satan whines about having to wander the earth (supposedly looking for someone to bother!). “Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
If, in our other examples, God allows difficult circumstances because He is disciplining His church, such is not the case here. Job was a good man. This wasn’t a case of discipline.
Notice too that God actually OFFERS Job to Satan.
I suppose it never occurs to many of us that when we are treated unfairly that it might be because God has offered Satan the opportunity to test our goodness and our godliness so that the devil can see for himself that a believer can remain both good and godly under difficult circumstances?
Notice that God is in control both of the offer and the limits on the offer. “...everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger” (1:12). Later, God would allow Satan to go just a little bit further and touch Job’s body: “...he is in your hands; but you must spare his life” (2:6).
And remember that Job knew nothing about this tug-of-war going on between God and Satan.
When we look at Job’s situation we can identify with it. We know that there are times in our lives when unfair things happen to us—things that are not discipline for some offense we have committed, or the consequences of our own unwise decisions. So how did Job handle the situation?
When Job lost his family and possessions, this is the response from him that we have recorded in Scripture: “At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship...In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (1:20, 22).
He mourned, as demonstrated in the tearing of his robes and shaving his head. After all, he had lost all his children in one blow. But he also worshiped and did not accuse God of having done something wrong.
Later, after he lost his health and his wife encouraged him to curse God, Scripture records this: “‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’ In all this, Job did not sin in what he said” (2:10).
Job seemed to know that both good and not-so-good came from God. Like David, he trusted that God had a reason even though he could not point out what that reason might be.
It’s one of the most often quoted verses from Scripture, but perhaps one of the hardest to believe. Tucked into the middle of a discussion on the difficulties of life, and the effects of sin on creation, Romans 8:28 is Paul’s expression of hope in the midst of struggle.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Just a little farther down in the chapter comes the statement: “If God is for is, who can be against us” (vs. 31) and then, “…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (vs. 37).
The “Why?” question haunts us. If we are treated justly and even when we need to accept the just consequences of our failure and sin, we have no difficulty dealing with the question. We KNOW why. But when we are treated unfairly. mistreated without cause, the “why?” question is one of the first things that pops into our minds. We crave explanations, answers, reasons, for whatever it is that is happening. And often the heavens are silent. God doesn’t explain and we are required to trust Him to have had a good reason for allowing us to be treated unfairly.
In these verses from Romans, Paul expresses his confidence that even though life may prove to be unfair, somehow, in some way, through some means, God will use those experiences for our good and to accomplish His purposes. The bottom line of those purposes is expressed in Romans 8:29, a verse we don’t often connect to the assurance of verses 28: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son….”
From before the beginning of time, God had a plan for those who would come back into relationship with Him through faith in Christ. That plan of redemption included restoration—the restoration of the character of Christ in each one of His redeemed children. Christ came, not only to save us, but to model for us these character qualities that God has designed for us to have in our own lives. He became one of us to show us that we could truly become one with Him in every sense.
So somehow, in some way, by some means, the injustices we face in our lives will contribute to the development in us of the character of Christ. And because He loves us nothing can deter Him from completing that plan in our lives. We will overcome to become—what He has designed us to be.
In the light of the promises of God to use the injustices of live to make us more like Jesus, 1 Thessalonians 5:13-24 encourages us to take positive steps to model Christ even when we are being treated unfairly. All of the passage is important, but a few phrases are particularly appropriate for dealing with injustice and understanding its greater purpose in conforming us to the image of Christ.
“Live in peace with each other…Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus…Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”
The last verses remind us again that whatever God sends our way is meant to “sanctify” us, or to make us holy. Though we can’t do that ourselves, we have the promise that God, through the work of His Spirit, will do it in us as we respond correctly to the challenges of our lives.
BUT I DON’T FEEL VERY THANKFUL!
One of the instructions in the verses from Thessalonians is “…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Enduring is one thing, being thankful is another!
Perhaps part of the secret is to look beyond the circumstances and focus on the end result that is promised—being like Jesus. Combined with the assurances from Romans we can take heart in knowing that we will overcome to become.
We also have the example of Christ to follow. In identifying with us by becoming one of us, Jesus opened Himself up to being treated unjustly. As one who never sinned, it couldn’t be said of Him that He “deserved” what He got as a consequence of some wrongdoing. Jesus paid the ultimate price for the injustice perpetrated on Him—He paid with His life. How He responded to such extreme injustice leaves for us the example of how we need to respond when we are treated unfairly.
Hebrews 12:1-12 describes this for us. The Lord Himself looked beyond the circumstances to the end result. For Him, that meant the return to the glory that was His before He took on flesh and become one of us.
“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (vss. 1-3).
While it is not inconceivable for us to suffer injustice to the point of death, most of us will never have to go to that extreme. We are encouraged to view these circumstances as part of our training in righteousness.
“In your struggle against sin, you have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and punishes everyone he accepts as a son’” (vss. 4-6). The quote is from Proverbs 3:11, 12 and is not meant to say that the injustice suffered is necessarily a punishment from God—otherwise it would indeed be justice. The purpose of the quote is to say that whatever the cause of the difficulties in our lives, they need to be looked on as part of a training process, taken seriously, but from the encouraging viewpoint that God loves us so much that, as the saying goes, he accepts us as we are, but loves us too much to leave us as we are (Leighton Ford).
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?…God disciplines us for our good, that we might share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (vss. 7-11).
Here again is that aspect of the end result that we need to focus on—holiness, righteousness, and peace.
The ability to forgive an act of injustice directed at us is directly related to our ability to look beyond the act to the God Who has permitted it as a part of His training plan for our righteousness. The process is not pleasant, but at the end of it comes the satisfaction of having pleased God by overcoming to become like Jesus.
This perspective allows us the ability to forgive those who are the instruments of injustice in our lives because they are God's instruments designed to make us more like Christ.