A Fresh Perspective on Fairness

If your mother knew taking drugs was against the law and bad for her, yet decided to take them anyway (like Eve in the Garden) while she was pregnant with you, you would suffer some effects from that also, even before she gave birth to you. Genesis 2: 16-17 and 3: 1-6 parallel this scenario saying, “And the LORD God commanded the man (and the woman) saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. “He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Before you were even brought into this world, you would be suffering from the effects of her decision. It was passed on to you. Psalm 51: 5 testifies to this through King David in this way, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

Then you, still under its power and not being able to get out from under it by yourself, pass it on to your children. The one person’s act of disobedience ruins it for all who come after. It’s a kind of inheritance, a bad one. Romans 5: 18-19 shares the truth with these words, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” Now, your first reaction after hearing this scripture might be like mine once was: “That doesn’t seem fair. Why did I and everybody else receive a death sentence because of what Adam did?” That’s a natural question, I suppose. There’s a two-part answer to that.

The first part is that, as humans, we are each unique to be sure, but we share a common nature; our essence is the same at its core. By that, I mean we are sinful and finite beings. We are limited in our thinking, understanding, power and abilities. We look to please ourselves first and others second. And all that we perceive with our senses – and certainly our minds – is focused primarily on us as individuals. We are capable of more on occasion depending on our motivations, but we are self-centered creatures. And because of this shared trait, it is fair and honest to say that, if put in Adam’s or Eve’s shoes, we would do the same thing.

The second part you might find interesting. You should agree even if you have never considered this before, but we have a skewed vision of what “fair” means. Ponder this. When we have something taken away from us that was never truly ours to begin with (although we may have gotten used to having it or wrongly think that it does belong to us), we are quick to cry “foul!” Conversely, when something, especially of value, is given to us that we didn’t earn, don’t deserve but that benefits us, do we then speak up and rightly say “unfair!”? Of course not. We humans are shockingly duplicitous and naïvely blind in this regard.

An excellent, apt, practical and surprisingly relevant case-in-point is found (not surprisingly) in the Bible. Matthew chapter 20, verses 1 through 15 say, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius (a day’s wages) , he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius (a full day’s pay). Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” You, like I once did, might see this situation exactly like the all-day workers did and, again, say “that’s not fair.” Why? Because you feel they were gypped. They, in essence, reacted as though something had been taken away from them. They expected more even when they were paid what they agreed to from the very beginning. But if they had been in the place of the other men who only worked one hour and got compensated for a whole day’s work, do you think they – or YOU – would say “unfair” now? Not likely. Why? Because it benefited you! There’s that ugly, self-centeredness popping up again. If I don’t deserve it but it helps me get what I want, cool. But if I know I don’t deserve it, and I perceive it hurts me, then it’s uncool.

In light of this, we know that Jesus Christ willingly died an excruciating death on a cross. Even if you’re not a Christian, I’m almost sure you’ve heard it said- maybe even to you, personally- that “Jesus died for your sins.” Did that mean anything to you? Did you understand it? Did you care? Or did you brush it off and go on with your life?

You see, God is life and He is the Creator of all things. He alone can give life (what belongs to Him) and He alone can give that life to what He creates. He gave life to both Adam and Eve. Sin separates us from God. It puts a barrier between us (you) and Him. Why? Because Almighty God is holy, righteous, blameless, perfect and light. There is no darkness in Him at all. Everything He is and does is just and good and right. When we disobey Him, and His perfect and loving commands, we commit evil, wickedness and sin. We show by our actions that we are imperfect. Since He is pure and we are impure, the two cannot dwell together. Nothing sinful can be joined to what is Holy. The Lord God still loves His creation, but we are forced to die. Die? Why? Remember earlier I said that God is life? He is our oxygen and blood. We need Him for life every second, every minute, every hour, every day, every week, every month, every year. He sustains us. Since He alone is life and the source of it, when we are disconnected from Him through sin, the natural (and supernatural) result of that is death, both physically and spiritually. Since we are born in sin, we begin dying the moment we are born.

Now, the Lord God is also a Judge. He makes the perfect laws that govern the universe and gives us His laws to show us the limits and boundaries we must remain within in order to be secure and provided for. When we disobey, we step outside of those protective walls and open ourselves up to judgment, to accountability. In the natural world we have laws, imperfect as some are because they are established and enforced by imperfect men, we must obey. When we choose to disobey them, we open ourselves up to judgment also. If you choose to steal from Walmart, hit someone with your car and flee the scene, sell or take illegal drugs, etc. we may get caught and go to jail; a different kind of limit and boundary that we definitely don’t want. But our own actions landed us there. Then we have a court date and the evidence against us is presented to the judge. He finds you guilty and hands down your sentence.
He doesn’t love you. God does. God is a just judge. If you die in your sins and face judgment, He will rule based on the evidence of your life actions. You are imperfect and sinful. He will have no choice but to pronounce you guilty.

However, because He does love you and with a steadfast and faithful and pure love, and because He loves mercy above justice, He devises a rescue plan. He is love. He is also just. He can’t be prejudiced and choose one over the other. That would be to deny who He is. He has to stay true to Himself. This means His plan has to include justice AND mercy. How does that happen? Can I die for the consequences of my sin and yet, somehow, still live? No. BUT, a perfect and willing sacrifice can accomplish both. Who or what is this amazing solution? God Himself in the form of Jesus Christ! Jesus willingly died for YOUR sins, my sins and the sins of the entire world. He willingly suffered and died in our place and satisfied the perfect demands of the Lord’s holy justice. But because He is also God, and because He is life, and because He is all-powerful, death had no lasting power over Him. He was resurrected and rose from the very temporary grave in glory!

Many people may understand His atoning sacrifice, even if they can’t fully appreciate it. They can know and realize that He paid the price they should have, but could never do. They are cognizant of the fact that the Savior satisfied and erased their sin debt before the Father. But what I’m convinced they aren’t aware of is His PROPITIATION. What is this term and why is it so important? To me, this is what brings me to my knees in gratitude. This is what shows me how high the stakes really are. This is what makes me tremble before His holiness. This is what helps me to realize the true depth of His love for me and the value He puts on me and that He does not take my eternal soul for granted. I certainly should not!

Propitiation is a word we should never forget or trivialize. You see, Father God is SO holy and SO pure and SO righteous that sin of any kind is an affront to Him. It is darkness, while He is light. It is wicked, while He is blameless and morally perfect. It drives an impenetrable wedge between us and Him, while He created us to have a permanent, intimate relationship with Him forever. It brings forth death, while He is the Author of life itself. Because of all this, wrath is stored up against all unrighteousness, all ungodliness and those whose lives are marked by it, the conscious choices they have made against Him and His perfect ways. That wrath, like a long-restrained volcano ready to spew its previously-dormant magma, was poured out on His perfect Son for all the past, present and future sins of all mankind! That’s what Jesus Christ agonizingly and humiliatingly, but willingly and obediently, endured while nailed to that Cross on Calvary! We don’t know and can’t comprehend this kind of love. Holy, sacrificial and perfect love. Most of those who were there to watch the spectacle, including the soldiers who inflicted the cruelty upon Him, taunted Him and mocked Him and totally misunderstood His purposeful silence and submission. They thought Him weak and a fraud saying, “You saved others, but You can’t save Yourself!” What they were clueless to was the fact that He came to the earth from Heaven in order to die. He came to save us from our sins. He came for the very purpose He was then fulfilling in their presence. God’s just and holy wrath against sin and, therefore, against us who choose it and reject Him, was poured out on His sinless and righteous self, made manifest in Jesus Christ the Son of God.

Knowing this now, how in the world can we not run, sprint and race to Him to confess our wrongs- which He is already fully aware of- and ask forgiveness – that He has already provided for – and turn (repent in our minds and hearts) AWAY from our lives of sin and self-centeredness, and TO Him in gratitude and servitude to become new creations in Him? He gives us new hearts. He makes us hungry and thirsty for righteousness. He gives us peace and joy and washes us clean by the blood He shed on the Cross. It is this one thing we do while we still have breath that will determine our eternal dwelling place- in Heaven with Him or in Hell without Him. What will you choose? Now is the time, and today is the day, of salvation.

Now I’ll expound upon this a little. Yesterday when I typed this in order to later post it, I thought that was it. But, this morning at work and for a brief few minutes, the Lord brought this concept of fairness, and the disparity between His view and our view of it, to mind. The Holy Spirit focused my attention on the book of Job. Verses 1 and 2 of chapter 1 describe his life this way, “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters.” If we read on, especially in verses 13-19, we find out that some of his servants were killed. Before the messenger could finish telling him this, another man came and informed him more of his servants were killed along with his sheep. Before he finished relaying that message, another man gave him the overwhelming news that his camels had been struck down. And the worst news came as the previous person was still speaking, tragically reporting that all of his sons and daughters were now dead. How does Job, the man of God, respond to this despite his grief? Verses 20-21 declare, “Job arose and…fell on the ground and worshiped…and said…’The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’” Wow! What trust he had in his, and our, God! His love and devotion did not depend on what the Father did or did not do for him, but rather who the Lord God Almighty is. How did his wife take the news? Verse 9 reveals her grief, yes, but also her shallow or lack of a relationship with her Creator. She exclaims, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”

What just went through your mind and heart as you read this segmented account? Were you thinking how unfair, in your eyes, the Lord God is? Would you have reacted with harsh and hurtful words towards the one you love the most in this life, your spouse, even in the midst of their despair? If you were allowing your emotions to rob you of your knowledge and experience of God’s faithful and steadfast character, you would most probably not be alone. That is quite human and mirrors the hearts of the laborers in the vineyard we read about earlier. But let me point out something very important here. Job was not being punished by the Lord. Father God, in His own perfect assessment of Job, described him as “blameless and upright.” I mention this because I imagine you may be saying to yourself how unfair it is for God to have rewarded Job’s devotion by killing off his livestock, employees and children– ALL of them and all on the same day and at virtually the same time.

To unpack this a little bit and explain why I can say with confidence how off-kilter our perceptions on fairness can be as sinful, imperfect human beings, the Word of God provides some reasoning in verses 4- 5. “His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, JOB WOULD SEND AND CONSECRATE THEM, and he would rise early in the morning and OFFER BURNT OFFERINGS according to the number of them all. For Job said, ‘IT MAY BE THAT MY CHILDREN HAVE SINNED AND CURSED GOD IN THEIR HEARTS.’ Thus JOB DID CONTINUALLY.” There’s a lot here to seriously consider. We can summarize their hearts and lifestyles by the visible fruit in their lives, and in the fruit their Father displayed on their behalf. He consecrated them. The best meaning of this verb in the original Hebrew is to purify. Purification is an act performed on something or someone who is impure and in need of cleansing. Next, it says, he made offerings for them. We know from scripture this represents a typically priestly duty done as an intercessory service for those who have sinned. Further, as any parent can readily observe their children’s behavior- whether younger or older, child or adult- they know their hearts, desires, activities and speech well enough to be concerned with and prayerful over them. Lastly, and perhaps most problematic, their father had to do this continually because this was their habitual practice. And because the Lord doesn’t change and the Word describes (and the believer can attest to) Him as being “longsuffering,” “rich in mercy” and “abundant in lovingkindness,” we have the full assurance that their consequences matched their iniquity in timeliness and degree. It is also a sobering reminder for Christians, and all of us, that the effects of the actions of those in our close proximity physically, spiritually, relationally, emotionally and otherwise are not felt in a bubble. We are often affected, to varying degrees, by the decisions, words and deeds of others. Concisely, Job suffered because of his children’s transgressions. He didn’t travail unfairly as a direct ramification of his integrity and obedience, but rather as a close ripple effect of his sons’ and daughters’ waywardness. Just as a bad photocopy, a blurry scan, or an illegible fax is to the pristine original so is, or worse, our sin-stained perception of Jehovah’s flawless, excellent and absolute model of fairness.

Grace, wisdom and discernment be yours as you seek Him with all your heart.

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