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Saturday, 8 December 2012

Is God Unfair?

Let's take the year 1970. Somewhere in the UK, Paul was taking a summer break from his University studies and was spending a month in Africa. Not only did such an experience had enriched his life as an undergraduate, but also enjoyed social life on campus. In his boyhood, Paul was selected to attend a grammar school as a result of passing his eleven-plus primary school exam. Furthermore, Paul grew up in a Christian home, and as a student, he was already a believer.

Paul is a couple of years older than me, but in 1970 I never knew this fellow. Instead, in that same year I was already at work in a cabinet-making factory where I had to spend every morning pushing a broom, got myself covered in muck as I had to take on the lowest of dogsbody tasks given to me, while enduring teasing, bullying and endless smut at an all-male environment, and I was generally unhappy. This was the end result of miserably failing my eleven-plus, attended a Secondary Modern school for less than four years, and left without any qualifications in 1968. Spiritually, I was on the road to atheism, which peaked between the ages of 18-20 years old.

So if both Paul and I had died for some reason, either illness or from an accident, Paul - after a cosy life in further education and far-away travel, would have gone to his beautiful mansion prepared for him in Heaven. By contrast, I would have tumbled headlong to Hell.

It was more than twenty years later, sometime in the early 1990s, that Paul brought his family south from the Midlands area to Ascot due to his work commitments, and joined Ascot Baptist Church where he and I met for the first time, after which we became firm friends. At present, he is back in Africa for the third time this year, having his airline ticket paid for by his employer to complete a project, while I struggle to keep our home afloat by working outdoors in cold wintry weather cleaning windows. Furthermore, my work as a domestic window cleaner often involve putting my neck on the line. At such precarious moments, one false move and I would be lying on the ground shocked and in pain, with a couple of fractured bones, something which occurred in 1997, putting me in hospital for five days and off work for a further two months. Maybe next time I come such a cropper, I could end up with paralysis. Life does not seem fair, does it? It is when I get out of bed on a weekday morning to find it's raining, cold, blowing a gale, dreading an awkward customer, or simply wanting to get back between the sheets that I wish I had done much better at school.

Then there are the television reporters. Oh yes, TV reporters! Some are famous, like David Attenborough, who has travelled the world many times over to pursue his passion, his love for animals. And other journalists who have reported on exotic locations, such as the Victoria Falls, The Amazon, the Pyramids of Egypt or the Australian outback, for a living - much more exciting than cleaning windows or even a daily routine in the office! And later this week I will be tuned in to Simon Reeve's report on his trip to Cuba, a week after watching Dallas Campbell fly around the world to report on civil engineering achievements. With all airline tickets and hotel accommodation paid by us, the TV Licence payer. Then there are those who are skillful in diving and have delivered stunning images of coral reefs and other marine life. These are all occupations which demand a University degree. For me, to have such an occupation would be living out my dreams!

Often I find myself sighing: Why, why, was I such a failure at school? Life is so unfair!

Journalists are paid to report on far-away locations such as the Victoria Falls, Zambia.

When feeling this way, it is so easy to forget the blessings I have enjoyed. My own travels for example, detailed in my last two blogs. Yet, no matter how much I try to console myself, I still have this nagging feeling - Is God fair? My friend Paul is typical of many a British Christian - middle class, well educated and holding a respectable profession with a good income, as well as opportunities for paid travel. While our church buildings are filled each Sunday with such people, our contrasting prison population, for example, is made up of inmates mainly without academic qualifications, or those who had dropped out of school, those who grew up in sink estates with little or no opportunities for proper schooling, those who couldn't find a decent job, therefore all resorting one way or another to crime. And I could bet to my last penny that every one of them would be antagonistic against the church or Christianity. One or two may "spirit out" - in occult or even New Age, but they would leave out anything to do with church. My late Uncle once explained to me that their problem was a lack of education. I think that he was right. It does look to me that education and church make good bedfellows.

Then there are even greater contrasts. Earlier this week, we receive the news that Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, is pregnant. The nation rejoices over the promise of an heir, third in line to the Throne. She pukes up with morning sickness, typical of pregnancy and a sign of a healthy foetus. She spends several days at Edward VII Hospital in London to ensure that she will be okay. On the other hand, there are thousands of ill children and families suffering malnutrition in the Third World, particularly in parts of Africa, and they are left to die, because of insufficient food supplies, lack of hospital facilities, or no medical aid at hand.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation posted a photo on facebook highlighting what we believe are God's priorities in the Christian.

We as Christians indeed may thank Jesus for helping us to find our car keys, or to score a goal, and yet forget the starving child! Apparently the first two with such trifling matters for prayer are saved and attract God's attention while the starving child is lost and ignored. God seems so unfair.

These sort of things have caused me to ask: Why?

Why are our churches in the UK filled with mainly well educated, middle class professionals, while most of the not-so-learned are lost?

Why does God listen to the prayer over lost car keys, while thousands of miles away, a mother is crying rivers of tears as she holds her dead infant offspring in her arms?

Indeed, why was one unlucky enough to have been born around 1894 only to be shot dead aged 22 in the Great War? Or to be born in 1920 again to be killed in the Second World War in the prime of his life, while from 1950 onward the "Baby Boomers" never had it so good?

Casualties of war.

And why does God say in the Bible, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and compassion on whom I will have compassion? (Exodus 33:19, Romans 9:15).
And also, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated? (Malachi 1:2-3, Romans 9:13.)

Or this, All that the Father gives me will come to me...No one can come to me unless the Father draws him and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:37,44.)

Or this: ...but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice and follow me...(John 10:26-27.)

With these and other similar scriptures, it is supposed that God chooses those to be saved, leaving others to perish without any chance to repent. We can conclude then, that here in England at least, God has a preference for the better educated middle classes. Furthermore, he seems to favour the Brits far more than the bulk of Asia, where Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and other non-Christian religions dominate. It seems to me that at the end of the day, God's love is restricted to the English-speaking folk with brains and some cash in their pockets!

And I guess this would have been the conclusion made by someone from the planet Krypton, after paying us a visit to undertake a thorough research on global spirituality.

Is God unfair? Yes -  to me, it does look as if God is unfair. Especially about him loving Jacob and hating Esau. Poor Esau! That is really a problem. If God chooses who to love, who else does he love? The guy dressed in suit and tie, sitting in church? And who else does he hate? The drugged up inmate in his prison cell? Or the Jew killed in the Holocaust? Or those killed in the trenches? Or the drunken Friday night city reveller ending up in a cell overnight?

The truth is, this is a fallen world, and literally everybody who has ever been born is tainted with sin and therefore deserving of judgement. Therefore we can conclude that: If God was fair, every single person in the whole of history would end up in Hell, and Heaven would remain empty of all mankind.

That is the fairness of God, as it would be impossible for any form of sin, no matter how small, to be in his presence. Therefore, in his fairness, no man can enjoy fellowship in Heaven with such a holy God.

But God so loved the world. The whole world, not just a few individuals or group of nations. He said in Peter's letter that it was not the will of him that any should perish, but all men should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9) and also commanded that all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). For God in Christ has reconciled the world to himself, not counting their sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:19). And in Romans 10:9-10, all we need to do is to believe in our hearts that Christ has risen from the dead and to confess this, to be saved. Furthermore, all it takes is a believing heart to call upon the name of the Lord to receive salvation. (Romans 10:13). So going by this Scripture, calling on the name of the Lord and confessing him as Lord is one and the same thing, based on faith in the Resurrection. God commands all to repent. But what is repentance?

It is to change of mind from thinking that Jesus Christ never existed, or just a great teacher, to believing that God resurrected him from the dead, after atoning for our sins by dying on a cross. The raising of Jesus from the dead is the very crux of the matter. It proves that Jesus Christ is Lord, and himself God. Therefore, he can be called upon.

In the eternal sphere, it looks like God has been fair all the time. In his fairness he had to shut out every person tainted with sin from his presence. But as he was being fair to justice, it was unfair for his love. In order to be fair to his love as well, there was only one way. To take on the form of a man and atone for our sins. Now God commands everyone to repent and receive reconciliation.

And I think that's fair.


  1. Hi Frank! Thanks for the welcome back! It is quite common for the Baptist, Methodist and most other denominations to sit "quietly", or so it seems, here in the states.

    As far as God being unfair, I agree to the "carnal eye" it may look that way. We must always keep in mind though that God sees the beginning FROM the END. He has already seen what has become of us. He has already seen if someone ends up with a horrible disease down the road, or even has a horrible torture-filled life. My personal belief is that knowing this, God sometimes will choose to allow a person child or adult to leave this world and join Him in His Kingdom to keep them from having to go through this.

    This may sound strange, but just as His Word tells us that He will not give us more than we can bear, my mind goes to the apostles who were killed for His name's sake. They may have left this world, but ended up going to be with Him in Heaven.

    God Bless,

  2. The reason God doesn't give us what we deserve is His grace. Grace implies unmerited favor. It makes me marvel to consider that God chose me. I don't know why and I certainly don't deserve it, but He loves me just the same.

  3. Hi Frank,
    there must have been a million discussions could have taken place while reading your post, and as I read, I thought 'there is an answer to all of these questions in the Bible'. I have never thought of God as unfair. He is like a shaft of light, and always has been, and man has chosen to walk into darkness. If He did not give us free will, the world would then say He was unfair. There is ample food and money in the world to supply everyone with their needs and it is man, and its governing authorities who are greedy. I passed my eleven plus and enjoyed my school but when I came of working age although I was offered a job in the civil service dept where my dad had worked, I chose to go to a market garden and grow tomatoes and chrysanthemums. One of my favouite jobs was a cleaning job in a factory. Happiness inside is what matters, not wealth. I do not envy anyone, I actually feel sorry for people who have a love of money and who would spend thousands of pounds on clothes and shoes that are worth very little in reality. Their lives appear to be filled with competition and selfishness. Who wants that? Anyway, an interesting post with lots of good points in it that God has the answers to.
    God bless.

  4. I love this post! You are so right that those who mock Christianity perceive God to be unfair, while totally failing to realize that He is perfectly holy and just. Because we are all sinners, we deserve none of His goodness and grace, which He gives us freely because of His infinite love. What would be fair would be for each of us to receive eternal punishment in hell, yet because of His mercy and the substitutionary atonement of His Son, He withholds that punishment from those who place their faith in Jesus' death, burial and resurrection, and instead gives us eternal life!
    God bless,

  5. For people who wish to deny their sinful nature, God must seem totally unfair, but as you pointed out he is in fact far more than just fair, offering every person the chance of eternal life. It is completely fair that those who refuse to take it should suffer the consequences is eminently fair. It would be unfair to allow those who refuse his offer to go.

    Great post,

    1. So true, Donald-- He created us with free will, so it is only fair that we must face the consequences of our decisions. Those who reject Him face eternity in hell, and those who love, trust and honor Him spend eternity in His glorious presence.

      Thanks again, Frank, for the excellent post!

      God bless,

  6. Hey Frank! Thank you for your insiteful comment on my blog. (I never know whether to answer them on my blog, or come over to the other persons blog to reply about it. LOL! Anyway,I totally agree with you. It is no one's job to "judge" anyone,no matter what the issue is. As my Pastor has said many times, the ONLY judge is God. If there is any judging or changing to be done, it should be and will be done by Him. Issues no matter what they are should be between that person and God only.

    God Bless,

  7. You're right Frank; English Christianity does seem to be about successful and educated Middle class people, far more than people at the bottom. But a scant look at God's choices in the Bible will tell you that God is absolutely no respecter of high social status and He deals with all kinds of people.

    As Brenda commented so astutely and wisely, there is something a little sad about those who are wealthy having faith in their wealth alone and being competitive and selfish; there is far more to life than having and acquiring money, that's for certain.

    By the way, this is one of your best posts Frank, amongst your usual high standard of posts. For a so-called uneducated man, you put most educated people to shame!

  8. “And I could bet to my last penny that every one of them would be antagonistic against the church or Christianity...”

    Then I am afraid you’d lose your bet – I’ve worked with the homeless and prisoners and a disproportionate number of them have a belief in God (and not just because a disproportionate number of them also suffer from mental health problems – and alas the two often go together). It is church and Christians that often puts many off going to church! And by the way, I was born and raised on a sink estate, I was in the remedial class at school and labelled ‘thick’, I was fostered as a child, witnessed some horrific domestic violence; I left school with a handful of CSEs and worked as a care worker for five years, wiping backsides and doing some pretty revolting jobs. Yet I have a PhD (theology and religious studies not less) now from a Russell Group university, a good job, I live in a nice house, in a rich little commuter town on the fringes of London. Yet I am the exception in my family – all three of my nephews have been in prison and I have cousins who have never done a day’s work in their life – but know the benefits’ system backwards!

    So when it comes to places allotted in life, I think, to some degree, we can make our own way – it is not God being unfair. Indeed it is we ourselves who are unfair to our fellow brethren and for centuries we lived in a society that only allowed a tiny proportion of the population to have access to wealth, education and equality before the law – the fact that the lot of many of our forebears (mine were all labourers) was far worse when the churches were full and Christianity had a central place and political and social power in British life, perhaps suggests God is unfair. Though I think a simple answer is that when religion doesn’t have to struggle, then it becomes the opposite of what it is supposed to be.

    Oddly enough it was the seven or so years I worked as a palliative care social worker that I really came to see that God is indeed unfair. When you’ve seen young parents die, leavving children and a wife or husband, it is hard to believe in a caring and just God. Or when you’ve seen the manner of many a cancer death: the pain, the humiliations, the wanton suffering – again it is hard to believe in a ‘fair’ God.

    I think the problem is when we try to approach belief and an understanding of the mind of God using anthropomorphic reasoning. But I don’t believe God is fair for one minute and I believe a lot of what we presume is ‘God’s Goodness’ is just sheer luck and the efforts of man (if it wasn’t for medicine and technology our lives would be a good deal shorter and contain a good deal more misery). I used to believe that the horror of the Cross was sufficient to answer the question of suffering. But I don’t think it is any more, I just don’t know. I certainly don’t believe in a fair, loving and just God – and I think a good deal of religious belief is a mixture of vanity (I’m so important God takes note of what I do... I’m so important God died for me...), fear of death, self-obsession (and believe you me, religion is very often a ‘me’ ‘me’ ‘me’ pursuit) – a means of making ‘me’ feel better about ‘me’ and social convention and social capital. But religion is something else too – but finding that ‘something’ is hard.

    I think there needs to be more emphasis on foot-washing and service (hands on, not paying someone else to do it via charity and many of the mainly government funded and non-believing staffed faith-based charities that are around) – it is far more Evangelical than sermons, tracts and ego-centric and emotionally masturbating choruses...

  9. P.S. My Brother-in-law was a window cleaner for 35 years or so (till the cigarettes took their toll and he retired with emphysema). It is one of the hardest jobs around...