Disappointment with God Part 1
Is God Unfair?
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 do…

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 life experiences.

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 unfair?

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 too much.

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 concluded:

“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 possible reaction.

 

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 disappointment.”
~ “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 set up.”

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
 


 

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