Life is Not Fair

My fifth grade teacher used to tell us all that time, “the only person who gets to decide your future is YOU,” and “YOU are the one who determines whether or not you are happy and successful in life.”

Even at that age, something just did not seem exactly right about what she was saying. I knew enough about my own life and the lives of those around me to know that life is not at all fair, and a lot of the things that can hurt us deeply may not be under our control.

The Bible acknowledges this, too. Was it fair, when in 2 Samuel 11, Uriah’s death was secretly orchestrated by King David, who had his eye on Uriah’s wife? What about in Genesis 37-40 when Joseph was thrown into a pit, or sold into slavery, or framed for rape, or forgotten about to waste away in prison? What about in Joshua 7 when thirty-six men lost there lives at Ai because of a sin that Achan had committed in the previous battle at Jericho?

Yet in the midst of all of the unfairness, the Bible offers hope, and not despair.

Romans 12:19 quotes Deuteronomy 32:35 in reminding us that God is aware of everything that goes on, and He will settle all accounts in the end, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Exodus 22:21-23 reminds us that he sees and cares about mistreatment, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry.”

Psalm 68:5-6 assures us that he cares for the downtrodden: “A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, Is God in His holy habitation. God makes a home for the lonely; He leads out the prisoners into prosperity, Only the rebellious dwell in a parched land.”

Not only does the Bible assure us that God sees that which is unfair in our world; it also reminds us to stop using our misfortune as an excuse, but rather to get back up and take responsibility for those things that we are able to control.

In Joshua 7:7-9, Joshua was in great despair because all of Israel was suffering and he did not know why. “Alas, O Lord God, why did You ever bring this people over the Jordan, only to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? If only we had been willing to dwell beyond the Jordan! O Lord, what can I say since Israel has turned their back before their enemies? For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and they will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will You do for Your great name?”

God’s response was powerful: “Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face?” He then gave Joshua specific instructions on how to take charge and be proactive about the situation, rather than whining.

Maybe that was what my teacher was trying to tell us. No, life is not at all fair. No, we cannot control what other people do. Just as people mistreated Jesus, they will mistreat us. But we can still take responsibility for our own actions, and we can go out in the strength of the LORD to do good in His name.

 

Jesus and Politics

Do you ever wonder what Jesus would say about politics if He were alive today? Would He endorse a certain candidate or political party? Would He take a stance on specific legislation, or at least on particular issues?

Jesus did not talk much about politics, His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). He actually had opportunities to gain great political power and turned them down (John 6:15). But there was one occasion on which Jesus was asked point blank about His stance on a specific political issue. In Mark 12, it is recorded that a group of Pharisees and Herodians asked Jesus, “Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?”

As it turns out, the poll-tax was a “hot button issue” in Jesus’ day. Historians tell us that it had been instituted in 5 A.D. when Jesus was a boy, and its institution was the cause of political riots. In fact, a man named Judas of Galilee had led a revolt in which He cleansed the temple and told fellow Jews not to pay the poll-tax. In a sense, the poll-tax had become a symbol of the oppression of God’s people by Caesar.

It is no coincidence that Jesus, having spent time preaching about a new kingdom (Matthew 4:17) and having recently cleansed the temple (Mark 11:15-19) was asked for a firm stance on this issue.

And the answer to this question was probably contested by the Pharisees (who opposed Roman rule) and the Herodians (who supported it), meaning that Jesus was being asked about a sensitive issue in front of two political parties who disagreed. To make the situation even more difficult, they ask Him in a way that demanded a straightforward answer: “Shall we pay or shall we not pay?” (Mark 12:15). There was no getting around it, Jesus might have to step on someone’s toes.

His answer was brilliant. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” In one sentence, He must have both pleased and offended both the Pharisees and the Herodians. The Pharisees would be offended that Jesus seemed to support the tax, but pleased that He esteemed God above Caeser. The Herodians would be pleased that Jesus seemed to support the tax, but offended that Jesus would suggest that an allegiance to God might undermine an allegiance to Caesar.

Essentially, Jesus revealed that the issues at stake were more far reaching and complicated than these religious and political leaders were making them out to be. Sure, the money was stamped by Caesar’s mint and had his image on them, so paying the tax was just. But the bigger issue of sorting out allegiances to God and government was and continues to be more nuanced than that.

Maybe if Jesus were around today, He would manage to do what He did in the gospel accounts. He might very well offend all of us, wherever we might stand on particular issues. He might very well defy all political categorization. He might teach us that among all of the complex issues of life, God must have first place (Matthew 6:33), the golden rule must govern our actions (Matthew 7:12), and that His word must be our guide above and beyond all parties and politicians (Mark 12:17, Psalm 119:105).

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