with God Part 1
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
January 19, 2003
Innocent children are dying of starvation in Third World countries.
Four Canadian soldiers died when a bomb was dropped on them from the
sky during a training exercise. Missionary Martin Burnham was held
captive by terrorists for 376 days until he was killed in a rescue
attempt. Two weeks ago, Wesleyan Missionary Rolly Galam was robbed and
killed in the Philippines, leaving behind a wife and three children.
Entertainers become wealthy while making a mockery of morality.
Producers of pornography have been rich and powerful. The rich continue
to get richer, and the poor continue to get poorer.
And where is the fairness? How can there be such injustice in the world.
Today we’re beginning a new series entitled “Disappointment with God.”
Over the next few weeks we’re going to talk about some of the tough
questions in life: Why is life unfair? Why doesn’t God answer my
prayers? Does God really care? If God’s so good, why does evil exist?
I’ll tell you right now that I’ll be pulling from a variety of sources
as I prepare each message, but there’s one book in particular which
I’ll be using. And coincidentally enough, it’s called “Disappointment
with God.” It’s a book by Philip Yancey, and if you would like you can
buy a copy at the Maritime Christian Bookstore.
There was a very powerful episode of The West Wing on a couple years
ago. Anyone fans here? This one particular episode was entitled, Two
Cathedrals, and dealt with the funeral of Mrs. Landingham. In the
previous episode, Mrs. Landingham, the president’s elderly secretary,
had bought her very first new car. But as she was driving it home after
picking it up from the dealership she was struck and killed by a drunk
driver. A senseless, unfair death.
So President Bartlet attends the funeral, and afterwards orders the
Secret Service to seal the door of the church with him alone inside so
he can have a little one-on-one with God.
“…She bought her first new car and you hit her with a drunk driver.
What, is that supposed to be funny? ‘You can't conceive, nor can I, the
appalling strangeness of the mercy of God,’ says Graham Greene… I think
you're just vindictive. What was Josh Lyman, a warning shot? That was
my son. What did I ever do to yours but praise his glory and praise his
name? There's a tropical storm that's gaining speed and power. They say
we haven't had a storm this bad since you took out that tender ship of
mine in the north Atlantic last year. Sixty-eight crew. You know what a
tender ship does? Fixes the other ships. Doesn't even carry guns. Just
goes around fixing other ships and delivers the mail. That's all it can
Have I displeased you, you feckless thug? Three point eight million
jobs, that wasn't good? Bailed out Mexico, increased foreign trade,
thirty million new acres of land for conservation, put Mendoza on the
bench, we're not fighting a war, I've raised three children. That's not
enough to buy me out of the doghouse?
Haec credam a deo pio? A deo iusto, a deo scito? Cruciatus in crucem.
Tuus in terra servus, nuntius fui. Officium perfeci. Cruciatus in
crucem. Eas in crucem! (Am I really to believe that these are that acts
of a loving God? A just God? A wise God? To hell with your punishments.
I was your servant here on Earth. And I spread your word and I did your
work. To hell with your punishments. To hell with you.)"
He said a few other things too, which I left out because of the words
he used. I don’t use them in my personal life, and they certainly
aren’t appropriate to use here. But it’s pretty clear that Bartlet was
upset with God and was venting his frustration and his anger at the
unfairness of life. And rightly so.
Let me tell you something: God is not afraid of you venting your real
feelings. You can get angry with God. It’s okay to question Him and ask
why things happen the way they do.
And that’s what Bartlet does. And I think we all share those feelings
at one time or another. They’re honest, human emotions based on real
The question is, how do we deal with these feelings? How do we deal
with these experiences? How do we deal with it when life just seems
Well, we have a lot of different options. And we’re going to just run
through a number of them. You can use the notes that were provided in
your Sunrise Update to follow along. As you can see, there are more
blanks and more points that we usually have, but don’t worry. We’re
going to move through them fairly quickly and I won’t expand on them
Okay? Let’s get going.
When life is unfair, how can we react?
Possible Reactions to the Unfairness of Life:
1. Deny God exists.
Elie Wiesel was a Jew with a strong faith in God. But after living
through the Holocaust, he saw his faith disappear. When he saw this
incredible unfairness in life, he decided that God must not exist.
I know of people who would say that they don’t know if God exists, and
if He does they don’t want anything to do with Him.
That’s actually the second option:
2. Turn against God.
In other words, why hold on to a sentimental belief in a loving God
when all of life seems conspired against you?
The Bible tells a story about a man named Job. Job is presented to us
as a good and honorable man. He was honest, righteous, and blameless in
the sight of God. And he had enjoyed good health and had been very
prosperous. But all that changed. Over a period of time, he lost
everything he own, his family members were killed, his servants were
killed, and he was left with nothing. He had gone through all of this
turmoil and unfairness, and his wife suggested this:
Job 2:9 (NLT)
His wife said to him, “Are you still trying
to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.”
Basically, turn against God. That’s an option Job had and an option you
have. You can decide that if God is that unfair, you want nothing to do
with Him. And I think a lot of people, probably more than we think,
choose this reaction. They turn against God. They’re willing to curse
God and die.
3. Claim that God can’t do anything about it.
You can believe that God Himself recognized that life is unfair, that
He’s frustrated and outraged by it, but He’s powerless to stop it.
This is the approach that Rabbi Harold Kushner takes in his book, “When
Bad Things Happen to Good People.” I’m not trying to beat on Jews this
morning, but I’ve got a couple quotes from Rabbi Kushner. After
watching his son die of progeria (the pre-mature aging disease), he
“Even God has a hard time keeping chaos in check… [God is] a God of
justice and not of power.”
~ Rabbi Harold Kushner
Of course, this goes against any scripture that talks about God being
strong in spite of our weakness.
Elie Wiesel, who we talked about as someone who decided that God must
not exist, said of this kind of God:
“If that’s who God is, why doesn’t he resign and let someone more
competent take his place?”
~ Elie Wiesel
4. Unfairness is a temporary condition…
things will balance out.
There’s an old Seinfeld episode in which Kramer discovers that Jerry is
“Even Stephen.” Everything always balances out. He lost one job, and
got another one five minutes later for the same money. He missed a TV
show, and caught a rerun. Missed a train, but went outside and caught a
bus. Elaine threw $20 of Jerry’s out the window, he found another 20 in
a coat pocket. Even Stephen… things will balance out.
I wasn’t aware of this, but I was reading this week and learned
something about the Hindu doctrine of Karma. It’s a rather different
belief in reincarnation, and they have mathematically figured out that
by the end of 6,800,000 incarnations a person will have experienced
exactly the amount of pain and pleasure that he or she deserves.
Unfairness is temporary… things will balance out. That’s another
5. Insist that life is fair.
These people insist that the world does operate according to fixed
laws: good people do prosper, bad people are punished.
Turn on the Vision channel sometime and you’ll probably hear that.
Televangelists love to preach about how if you’re living for Jesus,
things will go your way. If there’s sin in your life, you’re going to
have problems. If you’re sick, it’s because there’s some hidden sin in
your life. If your prayers go unanswered, it’s because you don’t have
enough faith. It’s the health and wealth gospel. Look around a bit and
you’ll find a church that teaches this. But not here.
This doesn’t explain why babies are born with AIDS, or why missionaries
are murdered. It doesn’t explain why sometimes things go wrong despite
our most passionate and faithful prayers.
Let’s talk about Job again. His wife suggested that he curse God and
die. But Job refused. So three of his friends came to him and insisted
that he must have done something to deserve what he was going through.
One of these “friends” said…
Job 11:13-16 (NLT)
“If only you would prepare your heart and
lift up your hands to him in prayer! Get rid of your sins and leave all
iniquity behind you. Then your face will brighten in innocence. You
will be strong and free of fear. You will forget your misery. It will
all be gone like water under the bridge.”
But Job knew and God knew that Job was blameless. He had done nothing
to deserve what was happening. It wasn’t fair.
6. Search for hidden meaning.
I was watching an interview with Mariel Hemingway this week on ABC. She
has, of course starred in several movies and TV series. And in this
interview she was talking about her new book, Finding My Balance. It’s
an autobiography that deals a lot with her success, but also deals with
family demons and tragedies.
Mariel is the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway was a
hard-drinking, Nobel Prize-winning writer who shot himself just months
before Mariel was born in 1961. Mariel’s sister Muffet abused drugs
which led to her mental illness. Her other sister Margaux, who was a
famous fashion model whose abuse of alcohol and drugs led to health
problems and eventually death, which was ruled a suicide. Both her
mother and her husband have battled cancer.
In the interview, Mariel said that she thought she was taken through
all of these things in order to teach her something. It’s a nice
thought, but the truth is a lot of things happen that are meaningless.
Sometimes someone dies simply because someone decides to drive drunk,
or because they decide to drive in bad weather. Sometimes people get
sick simply because there’s something going around that they catch.
Sometimes things just happen. Not a very pleasing concept, because we
prefer to know that everything has a reason. And a lot of things do.
But not everything.
Job’s friends offered this option, too.
“You should feel privileged, because God is giving you an opportunity
to learn and to grow.”
“Don’t dwell on the negatives… focus on the positives.”
“It could be worse. There’s always someone worse off than you.”
There’s a grain of truth in these statements, but they do nothing to
answer the questions of unfairness that the person in pain is
experiencing. They only water down and cheapen the pain.
7. Accept that Life is Unfair.
In the book Disappointment with God, Philip Yancey tells the story of a
man he refers to as Douglas. Douglas was a sincere devout Christian
whose wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. The breast was removed,
but a couple years later the cancer was found in her lungs. So she had
to go through the agony of chemotherapy. One night in the middle of all
this, he was driving with his wife and 12 year old daughter when a
drunk driver swerved and struck them head-on. His wife was unhurt, his
daughter had minor injuries, but Douglas himself received a massive
blow to the head. He would have sudden headaches, dizzy spells,
couldn’t work a full day, could become disoriented and forgetful, and
developed double vision with one eye which refused to focus.
When Yancey met with Douglas to interview him about his disappointments
with God, Douglas told him:
“To tell you the truth, Philip, I didn’t feel any disappointment with
God… We tend to think, ‘Life should be fair because God is fair.’ And
if I confuse God with the physical reality of life – by expecting
constant good health, for example – then I set myself up for a crashing
~ “Douglas” in Philip Yancey’s Disappointment With God p. 213
Life is unfair; God isn’t.
The Bible is full of accounts of good people, living in the will of
God, who experienced the unfairness of life. We’ve been talking about
Job. Catch what he said in Job 13:15;
Job 13:15 (KJV)
Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…
Or consider Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were in a foreign
land, and were ordered to worship the king of the land instead of their
own God. And they refused. The punishment for refusing was that they
would be thrown into a blazing furnace. How did they respond to this
unfairness? They told the king…
Daniel 3:16-18 (NLT)
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend
ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the
God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your
power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn't, Your Majesty can be sure
that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have
Or how about Stephen in the New Testament? An angry mob killed him by
stoning him for preaching about Jesus. How did he respond? While he was
having rocks hurled at him, the Bible records his words…
Acts 7:59-60 (NLT)
And as they stoned him, Stephen prayed,
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he fell to his knees, shouting,
“Lord, don't charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.
Things got better for Job. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were saved
from the fire, Stephen died. Life wasn’t always fair, but they all
chose to recognize that even when life is unfair, God isn’t. And they
chose to trust Him despite the circumstances.
Or consider Jesus himself. He was God who gave it all up to become a
man. And what did we do to him? We nailed Him to a tree. The one who
gave life had his own taken away.
The Cross is the ultimate answer to the question of unfairness.
Unfairness happens because life happens. Every experiences unfairness
to one degree or another. Not even God Himself is immune. And He weeps
and mourns for the unfairness that we endure.
Jesus offers no way out of the unfairness, but rather a way through it
to the other side.
~ Philip Yancey