Most of the time we hear this common complaint from young children when one child gets a bigger piece of cake than the other. Maybe as an adult you’ve used this phrase when a co-worker receives a bigger raise than you did last year “and they do half the work.” As parents we use this phrase as a teaching moment for our kids when they complain and our only response that makes sense enough for them to be quiet is to say, “Well honey, sometimes life just isn’t fair.” Is this truth or a myth?
I started paging through the Bible this morning thinking about how much waiting goes on throughout Scripture. People wait on people. People wait on God. God waits on people. There is a lot of waiting. Then I started thinking about how some people don’t have to wait, or maybe some people get to see the things they wait for and others don’t. For those who don’t get to see, there had to be a legitimate reason, right? God is not so frivolous with children as we are that His explanation of these things is simply “life isn’t fair”, is He?
The Israelites are slaves in Egypt and are begging and waiting for deliverance. “The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey…” (Exodus 3:7-8a) By God’s grace and saving hand those Israelites see deliverance (see Exodus 13:17-22).
Once delivered they are wandering the desert with Moses at the head following God’s lead in a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. Motivation to walk, camp, and eat off the land was high at the beginning of this journey. God’s words of a promised land with milk and honey were fresh. However, motivation dwindled quickly. After chapter upon chapter and story upon story of rebellion and complaints God releases consequences, one of which says none of the delivered people over 20 years old will see the Promised Land. (Numbers 14:33-35) Waiting for deliverance? Yes. Waiting for Promised Land? No.
After 40 years in wandering that desert there is a new generation of Israelites waiting on God for this Promised Land they heard about from their parents and grandparents. Moses is still leading them at this point. These generations may not have experienced the slavery, but have only known the desert and the promise of a new land. Will they get to see? Most do (see the book of Joshua), but not even Moses who put up with everyone’s mouths. “On that same day the Lord told Moses, ‘Go up into Abrarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab…there on that mountain you have climbed you will die…because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.” (Deut. 32:48-52) Of all people wouldn’t you think Moses would get to be in the land he’s been waiting for? Nope.
Fast-forward to Israel’s rebellion, idolatry, and sexual immorality. Now people aren’t waiting on God, God is waiting on His people. “Return, faithful Israel;’ declares the Lord. ‘I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt – you have rebelled against the Lord your God, you have scattered your favors to foreign gods under every spreading tree, and have not obeyed me…’”(Jeremiah 3:12-13) Think they turn back? No. God waits and so do more prophets…Hosea 14:1-2, “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return tot he Lord. Say to him: ‘Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips.’” Still waiting…
In the New Testament Mary gets news she’s giving birth to God’s child, the Messiah. She waits 9 months to give birth. At least she gets to see what she’s been waiting for! John the Baptist was born around the same time as Jesus; they were cousins actually. He “prepared the way” and preached about Jesus before Jesus made Himself known as the Messiah. John was waiting and had the opportunity to see Jesus. He even baptized Him! (Mt. 3:13-17) Here’s the kicker, John gets to see, but it’s not what he thinks it will be. While John praises Jesus, baptizes Him and prepares the way, when he is in distress, in jail and waiting for execution John calls out to Jesus and this is His response: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Mt. 11:4-6) and John is beheaded.
Going further in the New Testament there is the beginning of the Church. From Jesus time on His return was taught and it would come “like a thief in the night.” (I Th. 5:2) Most books in the New Testament show urgency because they believed Jesus return would be imminent. Still waiting…
So, after reviewing these stories of waiting to see and witnessing the “life isn’t fair” motto through Scripture I have come to the conclusion that “Life Isn’t Fair” is neither a truth nor a myth; it’s a misunderstanding. There are reasons why the Lord let some see and others not. We may not know, read about or understand them all, but I trust the Lord is sovereign and can handle that without me. When children tell their parents life isn’t fair because they didn’t get the toy they wanted, it’s because they don’t understand what budgets are, spoiling a child means, or that too much cake will make you sick. When we witness a co-worker getting an unfair raise over us, it’s because it’s hard for us to see past our bills, pride and greed. When we tell our children that life isn’t fair, it’s not because we don’t know the answers, it’s because we know they won’t understand. I imagine that is how God is with us, His children. We may complain, kick and scream that the next guy got more than he deserved. We may feel forgotten when our prayers are not answered exactly how we want or we don’t see answers at all. And we may think life isn’t fair when we can’t do and say everything we want to, but God knows the reasons why and we must trust Him. In the same way parents have their children’s best interest in mind so God has our best interest in mind too.
Sorry Israelites; sorry Moses; sorry prophets and John and the followers of Jesus waiting eagerly for His return. We may not understand why life doesn’t seem fair, but it’ll be okay. God understands and that’s all that matters.