To summarize our thoughts so far, we have said:
- Life if often unfair.
- Different people have different explanations as to “why” life is unfair.
- No one reason satisfies all people and no one reason seems soul-satisfying in all situations.
- “Why” life is unfair is a mystery.
- Therefore we are faced with the question of “how” to deal with that unfairness.
- Scripture provides examples of how our ancestors in the faith dealt with the unfairness that came to them.
- Our ancestors grieved, lamented, their losses.
- Our ancestors reached out to ask God’s help.
- Our ancestors sought to understand their own responsibility for what occurred to them and confessed where they fell short.
In this chapter, we will look at two more steps toward healing from the wounds of unfair blows that come our way. One step is to examine our assumptions. Another step is to accept help. We have been taught that life is supposed to be fair.
As we have already said, when we are children we are taught to share and we come to believe that everyone else will share, too. We have been taught to respect other people’s property, and we have come to believe that everyone else will do this, too.
So when others do not share, or when others steal from us, or when others mistreat our property, we feel violated. “It’s not fair,” we say. Our expectation of the way the world should be is torn in two. On some scale this creates a spiritual crisis, depending on the magnitude of the loss. If it is someone cutting in line at the grocery store, we will tend to blame the person. If we or a loved one have been violated in a crime, we may tend to blame the criminal and wonder why God did not protect us. If we or a loved one are threatened by death, we may feel God has abandoned us. If we are made vulnerable by war or natural disaster, we may question the very existence of God.
Let’s consider two observations. One is straightforward: When we suffer loss, the degree of our distress is equal to the extent of the loss Two people may lose the same thing, but one may hardly notice the loss while the other may be greatly distressed. Therefore the first will go on with life as usual, while the second person will experience anger, grief, and a need to ask for help. He may need a significant amount of time to adjust to his loss and to examine how that loss impacts his image of and relationship with God.
The second thing to be noticed is more subtle: Our expectations determine the degree of loss we feel and how unfair that loss feels. Remember when the Israelites were freed from the clutches of Pharaoh? Once they miraculously crossed the Red Sea, they must have thought they were in the Promised Land. Surely, their escape from Pharaoh and their unexpected rescue through the sea caused them to believe God was with them and life would be easy. As Exodus says, the Israelites “stood in awe of the LORD; and they had faith in the LORD and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14.31b).
But the Israelites soon found themselves in the middle of the wilderness, without sufficient food or water. “There in the desert they all complained to Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘We wish that the LORD had killed us in Egypt. There we could at least sit down and eat meat and as much other food as we wanted. But you have brought us out into this desert to starve us all to death’ ” (Exodus 16.2,3).
When life measures up to or beyond our expectations, it is easy to have faith in the Lord. Note the Israelites did not say “O Lord, you have been unfair to us in releasing us from captivity; you have been unfair to us in opening the Red Sea to save us.” It is only when life brought hardship that their sense of righteous anger is kindled.
The Israelites’ expectation that God would protect them from all harm left them feeling angry, betrayed, and distressed when they believed they would perish from thirst and starvation in the wilderness. We see a similar cry from Jesus at his crucifixion: “My God, my God, why did you abandon me?” (Mark 15.34b). Our expectation that God will save us from all harm leaves us feeling abandoned and that life has been unfair when we are faced with extreme circumstance or death.
That Jesus also experienced a sense of the unfairness of life may give us some comfort. Even Jesus struggled to understand who God is in the midst of suffering. Yet we should also notice that, in his pain, Jesus cries out to God. This is perhaps both a statement of frustration and a plea for help. As we said in Chapter 2, when we experience unfairness in life, a big spiritual step is to ask for help.
A further step is to accept help when it comes. You may be familiar with a story about a man who lived in a Midwest city. He always watched the evening news for the weather report as the weather where he lived could change precipitously. The evening report stated that people should evacuate their homes because of a huge rainfall that would mean certain flooding in his neighborhood. “That’s O.K.,” he thought, “I know that the weather reports are often wrong, and, besides, if it does flood, I have faith in God and I know he will rescue me.”
So the man went to bed and slept very peacefully, until he awoke about sunrise with the sound of water pouring into his bedroom. Startled, he jumped out of bed and climbed the stairs to his attic. Within two hours, the water was pooling in his attic. He found an axe, cut a hole in the roof and managed to use a chair to get himself onto the roof. He was surprised to see the water still rising.
Fortunately, a boat came by to offer him a ride, but the man said, “Thank you very much, but I have faith in God and I know that I will be O.K. He will rescue me if I need help.”
The water continued to rise and a helicopter came by, but the man said, “Thank you very much, but I have faith in God and I know that I will be O.K. He will rescue me if I need help.”
Finally the waters rose further and swept the man away to his death.
Soon he appeared in heaven before God. The man was distressed. He had been faithful to God and believed what had happened to him was very unfair. So he was direct with God saying, “I have believed in you all my life, I put my trust in you, I attended church, I lived by the Ten Commandments, I helped my brothers and sisters whenever I could, and still you let me drown. That was not fair. You didn’t live up to your end of the bargain!”
God responded by saying, “I don’t know what you are complaining about. I sent you a weather report that told you to get out of the house, but you ignored it. So I gave you hearing that woke you up when the water came to your bedroom, and I gave you strong legs to walk to the attic, and I gave you strong arms to cut the hole in the roof; then I sent you a boat and finally a helicopter, but you ignored that help too. I don’t know what else I could have done.”
The point is simple: spiritual healing may be promoted when we ask for help (Chapter 2), but the help that comes is not helpful until we have eyes to see it and the will to accept it. Our pride cannot only keep us from asking for help, but our pride can also keep us from accepting help.
The Scripture passages in this chapter point to those times when our ancestors in the faith were able to see the help God was providing them and were able to accept that help. As you read these Scriptures, reflect on what help is available to you and if you are taking advantage of it.