If I had to confess what often tests my faith the most, it’s a sense of unfairness at play in the world.
When I see someone who puts in long, hard years at a job end up laid off or with decreasing benefits or help or an uncertain financial future, I wonder. God, isn’t that unfair? When they’ve done everything you asked and put in all their effort? Is that the best they can hope for?
When someone becomes a Christian after years of resistance only to get run over by the train of life, I cringe. God, I thought you were gentler with new believers? Isn’t this going to test their faith more than they can bear? To become a Christian and have nothing but trouble…
When I put more effort than ever before into my spiritual walk and feel closer to God than I ever have, and yet some long-sought and God-inspired dreams seem more distant than ever, it’s hard not to listen to the sinister inner voice: A whole lot of good your relationship with God is doing you right now, huh? The more you try, the worse it gets.
These are, I think, natural thoughts and feelings. And there are a lot of answers for them. The first is that Christians ought to disabuse themselves of the notion that we “deserve” anything good any more than anyone else does. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” says Romans 3:23, reminding us that if this wicked creation deserves anything, it is condemnation. Even our best righteousness earns us nothing.
The second is that Jesus never promised us roses. “In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus says to the disciples in John 16:33: it was never meant to be great here, and that’s okay, because “here” is a passing breeze in the endless span of eternity.
And the third is simply this: the world is cursed. Literally. The punishment of mankind in Genesis included the following: enmity, pain in childbirth, the rule of husband over wife, painful toil and labor, death. We weren’t originally intended to suffer, to struggle, to fall, to die. But that is part of the curse on humanity earned through the Fall: the very curse that Christ redeems us from and saves us from.
Most of us know these things. And we repeat them a lot when we’re forced to confront the unfairness in the world. I know I do. Life’s unfair. We were never promised a rose garden. That’s just how things are. Yet, at times, those words feel like cold comfort. And I think it’s because although the world is fundamentally unfair and we have to reconcile ourselves to that, we also need to think about the fact that we are the ones who can make it a little less unfair.
We can’t stop a hard worker from being laid off unexpectedly, for example. But we can make sure that we support the worker and their family financially and emotionally and with whatever job-seeking resources we can put together. When a new believer finds themselves beset by a crisis, we can intervene to hold them up and get them through it. When a family is devastated by a cancer diagnosis, the church can’t take the disease away – but it can act.
When I was in the third grade, my family’s house burned down. I remember how sad my parents were. I remember being bewildered by the sight of it: a burnt-out husk choked with acrid smoke scent where my bedroom and my toys used to be. We had the clothes on our back, a Bible that had miraculously been spared the burning in spite of a charred cover, and not much else.
It was a harsh thing. But I also remember a magical moment that came of it, months later, when we moved into our new home. I walked into my brand-new bedroom and then stopped, amazed: the walls were lined with brand-new toys in brand-new boxes. It was wondrous and magical and a memory that still makes me smile. No, nothing would replace the beloved stuffed Pound Puppy that I’d lost in the blaze (though my grandmother managed that, years down the road), but it turns out that church members had done their best to make it right for a confused little girl.
And that’s the thing. Yes, the circumstances of life can be cold and unfair and cruel. But we can soften and blunt them. We can right the ship, if only a little. In fact, it’s our mandate. It’s what we’re here to do: to love each other and care for each other. The God who gave shade to a grumbling Jonah, who provided for a burnt-out and worn-down Elijah, who raised the dead and saved a wedding party from disaster, has put us here to accomplish what He loves most: fixing broken things.
It takes time, of course. And money. And energy. And I find that a lot of us, me included, refrain from reaching out for precisely that reason. We have enough on our plates. We’re stretched thin. We’re tired. We have other things to attend to. And so, in a moment of great unfairness and great need, we’re tempted to shake our heads and say, “Isn’t that a shame. That’s just the way the world is.”
But we can do more than that. And we should. Yes, the world can be unfair and harsh and cold and cruel. But God placed us here to make that different, and when we find ourselves in situations that we can, we ought to give it everything we’ve got.