Is God Fair?
Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal? (Ezekiel 18:25)
The people of Ezekiel’s time argued that God is not fair. Some people, they said, got more than they deserved, while others were denied their proper reward. These people faced the problem more frankly than we are accustomed to do. Secondary causes did not enter largely into their thinking. Whatever was done, God did it. They might state an alternative, but when the decision was made, they said God made it. In an earlier period Jephthah vowed to give in sacrifice whoever should come out of his house first upon his return from victory over his enemies, and left it, as we would say, to chance, as to who that one should be. But to this primitive man chance was just another name for God. And after all, there is something valid in this form of reasoning. Solomon urged the people to believe that “the disposition of the lot is of the Lord.” They drew articles from an urn, allowing that a certain color or a certain size should indicate the decision. They did this as we hold elections. But they did it religiously. They believed that a decision made that way was God’s decision. This too is a good example for us, and will save us much worry, if we but learn to believe that the accepted way of making decisions will result in God’s will being found. It is helpful to believe this, even when for the immediate moment there seems clearly to us to have been a mistake in judgment. We are not wise enough to see all the future, and that which seems for the moment to be wise may, “in the long run,” prove to be very unwise.
David had something of the same difficulty as the people of Ezekiel’s day. He cast about to see how much the wicked were distinguished from the just in matters of providential blessings. He found that there was not only no appreciable difference, but found that the advantage was frequently with the wicked. Good men were often poor, while their ungodly neighbors were prosperous. The righteous frequently suffered sickness and disease, while the plague passed over the houses of those who forgot God. Some people who were industrious were unfortunate in their choice of land and seasons, while many whose lives centered in selfishness were blessed with abundant harvests. To David the inescapable question came: Does it pay to serve God? Does God reward righteousness and punish wickedness?
A learned writer of our own times, whose name I do not call on account of his official standing which I have no desire to affect, says, “The accident of circumstance is far more important than deliberate planning in shaping individual careers. Two persons of equal ability and attainments obtain identical positions in the same organization, but in different bureaus or divisions. In one the turnover in the higher positions may be rapid, thus affording opportunity for frequent promotion; in the other, it may be negligible, bringing little or no opportunity for advancement. Again, unforeseen events may bring prestige to the one, leaving his equally capable colleague unknown. So the accident of circumstance plays its part, barring opportunity for one and opening to the other the pathway to success.”
I think no one will question that this is a statement of facts, and that the observations are true to the experiences of life. But this is all in contradiction to the “walnut and beans,” “pushing to the front” philosophy which has recently been so popular, and which is so complimentary to the successful, but so discouraging to those to whom worldly success is denied. But even this “accident and circumstance” explanation gives no relief to the unpromoted. It does not particularly help one who is left behind to just tell him he is “out of luck.” He is already aware that this is the case, but when he can find no reason within himself why his situation is not more fortunate, he has little left but just practical atheism which has all along had for its motto, “All is vanity and vexation of spirit.”
There is no way for us to amend the facts. Facts, they say, are stubborn. We may reason that it ought not to be this way. We may conclude that the good should be healthy, wealthy and happy, and that the wicked should be sick, poor and miserable. But concluding it should be thus only serves to make it worse, for it is not that way. Of course we know that right living does have a tendency to make for good health. We know that industry and frugality have a tendency to lead to affluence. And we know that peace within the heart is a heritage of the most blessed and enduring sort. But we also know that the accidents of circumstance are often the determining factor, and these do not run according to a true course on the basis of the good and the evil. The effects of the good habits of the righteous man are often offset by hereditary weakness, by the exposure required by duty, by accidents involved in occupation and by what seem to us to be unrelated circumstances. The good man’s business judgment is not infallible, and the circumstances of the lives of God’s own people are often such as to necessitate heart burden, loneliness and unmitigated care throughout the course of much of life, and we would as well face the facts frankly. It will do no good to hedge and explain. The facts are there. What shall we do? Is God really fair? Does it pay to live the Christian life? Do the good have. advantage over the wicked?
Summarizing all we have said: it is impossible to work. out the promises of God in the realm of the material and the temporal. They just do not work out here, we frankly admit that. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” And yet Paul said, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God; to them that are the called . according to his purpose.” How can this be, seeing we admit that the grace of God does not always give the recipient a “sixth sense by which he knows which calling to choose or which department to enter? And seeing being good does not imply that one will be wise in worldly matters, how can we say all things work together for good, when we know that the business and social choices of the most devout sometimes lead but to “blind alleys”?
There is just no way to work this problem out except by positing the realms of the spiritual and the eternal. If all that is good is what can be measured by a yardstick, weighed in a balance and computed in money, then the ways of God are not equal. If all there is of human existence is that which comes between the cradle and the grave, then we know God is not fair. For here, even to the end of life, the wicked frequently go unpunished, and the righteous die at the gates of the rich with no friends but the dogs. but the material is not all the real, and time is but a small contingency of existence. On the basis of the reality of the spiritual, we have to admit that we do not always know what is good and what is bad — that is, what is fortunate and what is unfortunate. The rich may be poor and the poor rich. The sick may be well and the well sick. The happy may be miserable and .the careful happy. Far from being an index to the real state, the outward circumstances may be entirely contradiction to the inner state and standing. of.. the soul. It was: thus with the rich man at whose gate the beggar lay. The real state of things was not revealed until death overtook the pair, but the state existed all along. Even while Dives dined in his costly apparel, he was in reality a pauper, and while Lazarus waited for the crumbs, he was rich in faith and affluent in grace.
When friends meet on the plane of earthly things, they are accustomed to ask only, “Are you well? How is business? Are you happy?” But answers to these questions touch only upon the surface. Yea, even more, they may be entirely misleading. The real question is, “Is it well with your soul?” If it is well with your soul, then it is well otherwise, even though the surface symptoms seem to dispute the assertion. If you have peace and inner rest you are well, no matter what the state of your health; you are rich, no matter how you stand with Dun and Bradstreet; and your state is fortunate, no matter how heavy the burdens you bear or how deep the sorrows you share. When you come to calculate in these values, you will find that God is fair and that He does give reward to those who serve Him. You will find that it does pay to be a Christian and that the advantages of the life in Christ are overpoweringly greater than all blessings besides, and that the inconveniences suffered by the Christian are indeed but transient, while the blessings are fundamental and abiding.
And death does not end all. This is the firm conviction of our hearts. There are arguments that prove to the unbiased that the soul is immortal, but I do not appeal to these. I appeal only to the inner conviction that we all feel. We feel that man is immortal because he ought to be immortal. There must be a future life to give meaning to the present life. With a judgment and an eternity yet ahead, there is time for evening accounts, and when this is done the wicked will get his deserts and the righteous will be properly rewarded. The shortsighted would take their good in this world. But those who look far into the future prefer to wait on their reward to the time when they can keep it longer. The worldly minded are anxious to collect their dues right away that they may have opportunity to spend them. But the righteous are solicitous to exchange everything possible into “New Jerusalem gold” that they may have it at the end of the present life, and possess its benefits forever.
The story has been often told, but perhaps there are some who have not heard it yet. It relates to a farmer who professed to be a skeptic, and who lived in a community served by a country newspaper the editor of which was a Christian. The editor regularly inserted articles relating to religion in his paper. At the close of a certain season, the skeptic sent the editor an article in which he told how he had proved to his own satisfaction that there is nothing but superstition in the idea that God rewards men who serve Him, and especially that there is no advantage in keeping the Sabbath holy. Said the skeptic, “I have a field which in fertility and general productivity is about the same as like fields belonging to my Sabbath keeping neighbors. But this year I made a test of it. I plowed that field on the Sabbath, planted the corn on the Sabbath, did all the cultivating of the corn on the Sabbath, and gathered in the harvest on the Sabbath. And when I made comparisons I found that I received a better yield on that field this October than was had by any of my Sabbath keeping neighbors.” The Christian editor printed the letter from the skeptic just as it was received. But he added this one line of his own: “God does not always make full settlement in October.”
Indeed God does not settle fully with any of us at the end of the season, or even at the end of the earthly life. And on this basis we again assert that God is fair. And on this basis, to be fair ourselves, we cannot well begrudge the wicked their advantages. I stopped one day to hear the preaching of an old colored woman who had gathered a crowd on the corner of the street in a southern city. Just as I stopped the colored prophetess said, “Some people do not believe there is a heaven or that there is a hell. But this world we are in now is both heaven and hell. It is the sinner’s heaven, for it is the best world he will ever be in. It is the Christian’s hell, for it is the worst world he will ever be in.” Nay, let us not envy the workers of iniquity any immunities they may have. Let us not envy them any passing blessings they may enjoy. On the other hand, let us not pity ourselves, if we are saved and right with God, for the sorrows of the present are but passing and the joys of the future will last forever. Let us not complain of our lot if it seems to be inferior to others, our equals, for they have their day now and we shall have ours later, and our day will be better and will last longer than theirs.
The Master remarked, “Wisdom is justified of her children.” This means, I think, that the course of God with men is endorsed and approved by those who know God and love God. James asked Christians to count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations.” Peter exhorted that we should rejoice that we are now partakers of the sufferings of Christ, “that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” Paul went even farther yet and suggested that our future joy will be estimated somewhat by our present sufferings. If there ever comes to us any suggestion that we are being forgotten, let us rather remember that God has our spiritual and eternal good in mind, and that whatever He sends or permits to come will contribute, by His grace, to our highest and most lasting good. “For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God; to them that are the called according to his purpose.” It is ours to love and obey Him, and it is His to transmute all the lead of our earthly estate into the refined gold of His glory m us. The battle is not always to the strong, nor the race to the swift. Even the young lions may suffer hunger, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength: they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.”
We mentioned David’s distress over the seeming indifference as between the righteous and the wicked — observing that the advantage was often with the wicked. But the sweet singer of Israel later went into the house of God. That is, be became spiritually enlightened. Then he saw that the feet of the wicked are placed in slippery places, and that the righteous are weaned from this world by the roughness of their estate. Then he rejoiced because God has not smothered the good intentions of the righteous with earthly rewards, but has rather given them spiritual and eternal portions.
Socrates was but an enlightened heathen, living many years before the Christian era, but once he went into the temple and was overheard to pray, “Beloved Pan and all ye gods that haunt this place, grant me that my inner powers and outer demands may be equal, and give me no more of the goods of this world than the temperate can carry.” Translated into Christian terminology, that is my prayer too. I would have grace as my day requires, and possessions only to the limit I may use them for His glory. And if there is any way to estimate spiritual riches in terms of money, then I ask that God may give me millions in grace to pennies in earthly fortune. And then I pray that my spiritual eyes may be so enlightened that in such a state, I may answer every doubter with the personal assurance that the ways of God are equal — that God is truly fair.