Excerpt from Craig Groeschel's The Christian Atheist: When You Believe in God But Live as if He Doesn't Exist (eBook).
People often say, "Life isn't fair." That's unquestionably true. And when unexplained tragedies ... invade our lives, even those of us who believe in God may want to scream, "God's not fair!" If God is fair, then why do the unrighteous seem to prosper so often, even as the faithful are suffering? If God's fair, why doesn't he do something about all the injustices in the world? It seems reasonable, then, to conclude that either God isn't fair, or he's powerless...
Why doesn't God seem fair? As you try to process the pain in your life and in the lives of those around you, you might find yourself asking that same question. Maybe you prayed for something to get better, but it only got worse. Maybe you're suffering because of someone else's sinful actions. Maybe you've raised your child as best you could, but your child is drifting farther and farther from God. Maybe you've lived morally and begged God for a spouse, but you're still alone. Maybe you've done everything you know to do, but it feels like life sucker-punched you, and now it's kicking you while you're down. Maybe you've been looking for a reason behind your suffering, and it's beginning to take a toll on your faith.
Where is God when life's not fair?
Present in the Pain
When we're hurting and confused, we need to remember a few truths about God. First, God cares for each one of us. When we hurt, he hurts. Remember: God was a man for a time, so he knows exactly how we feel. Matthew 9:36 tells us about Jesus' deep compassion for people in emotional pain, a people who were "harassed and helpless." The Greek word for compassion, splagchnizomai (splahnk-NEE-zaw-my), means "to feel deeply, as from deep within one's bowels." Jesus felt the pain of those people deep down in his gut...
Jesus as the compassionate, good shepherd. Image from a 3rd century catacombs painting.
And God already felt that way before he sent Jesus to us. God describes himself to Moses in Exodus 34:6 as "the Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness" (emphasis mine). The part of his name that translates into our word "compassionate" is the Hebrew word rachuwm (rakh-OOM), which is derived from the same origin as the Hebrew word for "womb." God's compassion comes from deep within his very core. It's the same as Jesus' compassion. When you hurt, he hurts...
Another truth about God is that he comforts us in our pain. Isaiah 49:13 says, "For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones." Often, just knowing that he's there is comforting...
We may not always recognize his loving action when it happens.
Sometimes God may intervene to prevent or ease our pain, or even to help us escape from it. But we may not always recognize his loving action when it happens. We can't count how many times our gracious Father has protected us from certain harm because we don't know it even took place. And even when we do see instances when he protected us, we may find it hard to recall those moments when we face a season of pain. Fresh pain can consume us, enshrouding our whole world like a deep fog. A single moment of pain can stretch out, feeling like it's spilling over the borders of the present into both the past and the future. But when we're ready, a gentle reminder of God's previous (and continuing) goodness can comfort and inspire us to find hope again...
God Is Not Fair
God is not a finite person. He is a spirit who created everything. He doesn't experience time the way that we do. We cannot realistically expect to fully understand God's perspective, especially when it comes to pain and suffering. However, we can examine what we know about God and what we know about ourselves. If you're like me, when something bad happens, you often feel like your pain is unjustified. It's just not fair. I'm a good person. I didn't do anything to deserve this. There is one major problem with my defense: I'm not good.
But the good news is that God is not fair. Psalm 103:10–12 says, "[God] does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." If the wages of sin is death and we're sinners, then we deserve death. We've broken the law. We're guilty. We deserve to be punished. To die and suffer eternally would be fair punishment for our disobedience. But thank God, he's not fair. He is just, but he is not fair.
Because someone sinned, someone must die. In his mercy, God sent his Son, Jesus, as a sacrifice for our sins. If we know Jesus, he doesn't give us what we deserve. We read earlier in Romans 6:23, "The wages of sin is death." That's what we deserve. But that verse doesn't end there. It continues, "But the gift of God is eternal life." Thankfully, we don't always get what we deserve...
Bad things happened to [Jesus] so that good things could happen to us.
Bad things do happen to good people. But Jesus' story is the ultimate good news story. Bad things happened to him so that good things could happen to us. I'm usually quick to ask why something bad happens. Rarely do I stop to ask why God might bless me with something good. The truth is, good things happen to people like you and me, people who are sinful and deserve death.
If you're hurting deeply right now, keep Job's story in mind. Even though he suffered immensely, in the end, God blessed him more than he had ever imagined. I pray that God will do the same for you. No matter what, we can be thankful to God that he doesn't always give us what we deserve. When it comes to our sins, thank God that he is not fair.
- Craig Groeschel
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(Image and some styling above are web-exclusive features not included in the text of The Christian Atheist. Image attribution: Catacomb of St. Priscila, Rome, Italy; Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons. This post does not represent the views of Zondervan or any of its representatives. The writer's personal opinions are shared only for information purposes. To receive new Zondervan Blog posts in your reader or email inbox, subscribe to Zondervan Blog.)