Anyone who has raised children or has spent time around children has heard many times the complaint, “It’s not fair!” Children seem to have a strong sense of right and wrong and claim to be able to perceive injustice, although sometimes it seems that the words “It’s not fair!” really mean, “That’s not what I want.”
As people mature, they come to learn that life is often unfair. Suffering often seems meaningless. Bad people get away with their crimes, while people trying their best to be good have severe problems. Some behavior may increase the chance of certain diseases, but there are always some people who engage in that behavior without harm to themselves and others who contract the disease without increasing their risk by what they do.
Bad behavior has been compared to pollution, which damages the environment and causes all to suffer; yet the suffering caused by that pollution is random and not fair. Sometimes it is worse than random. The owner and managers of a factory may decide to cut corners even though their poor policy pollutes the community’s drinking water. The owner and manager can afford to buy bottled water, but the rest of the people in the community have no choice but to drink the polluted water.
This problem has been recognized for a long time. Psalm 72 describes the problem, speaking of the “prosperity of the wicked,” noticing that “they have no struggles…they are free from common human burdens.” “Always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.”
Some people say that random suffering occurs because God is not good. Others say that God himself is good but that he does not care about the people living in this world. Still others say that God cares, but that he is not strong enough to defend all his people from suffering and from the power of evil. For those who believe that God is good and that God cares and that God is almighty, random suffering can be a challenge to faith and to trust in God.
Imagine a world that was perfectly fair. Imagine that no one suffered except as a consequence of his or her own bad behavior. I could not hurt you with a weapon and you could not hurt me; we could only hurt ourselves. No one would succeed in lying or in stealing, but whenever a person tried to lie or to steal, that person would suffer for that misbehavior. If you saw a person in distress, you would know that such a person was getting what he or she deserves. When you met a person with no problems, you would know that you are in the presence of someone you can trust.
How would you fare in such a world? Have you always been truthful with every word you have spoken? Have you never taken anything that does not belong to you? Have you been content with what you have? Have you always tried to help other people around you? Have you always given God the honor he deserves?
Unless your life is flawless, you do not really want to live in a world that is perfectly fair. For that matter, God does not want to be perfectly fair to you. God designed a world in which people do not get what they deserve because he wanted us to be able to help each other. More than that, God wanted to be able to help us. He wanted to be able to rescue us from the punishment we deserve for all our misbehavior in his world.
Jesus of Nazareth deserved nothing but good. He honored God in heaven and obeyed all his commands. He was kind and helpful to the people around him. He always spoke the truth. He never tried to take anything that did not belong to him. He never hurt another person by deliberate cruelty or by carelessness.
In a world of perfect fairness, nothing bad could happen to Jesus. Yet Jesus had enemies who opposed him and wanted to destroy him. They arrested him and accused him of crimes. They lied about him and abused him. They condemned him, and then they delivered him to the Roman authorities, telling even more lies about him. The Roman authorities mocked Jesus, tortured him, and killed him. They nailed him to a cross, sending him to the kind of death reserved in Roman law for only the worst of criminals.
In a world that is perfectly fair, such things could not happen. Jesus did not want to be perfectly fair. He wanted to rescue you and me from the punishment we deserve. He wants to give us the rewards for perfect goodness that only he deserves. God designed a world in which suffering and evil can be unfair so that God could be unfair to us. God wanted to treat us far better than we deserve to be treated.
When you face a situation that is unfair, you can stamp your feet and cry like a child. You also can remember that not all injustice is bad for you. God was unfair to Jesus for your benefit. God is unfair to you; that is good news for you. Allow the injustice of this world to remind you of the perfect love of God and his injustice on your behalf. Know that Jesus is never going to stop being unfair to you for your benefit.