Tuesday, November 18, 2008

God Is Not Fair!

I was privileged to grow up in a home where the Bible was read daily by parents who, although imperfect, believed it and lived their beliefs. I have no memory of not believing in God or not believing the Bible was His Word – full, complete and trustworthy. Through the years there have been passages that bothered me; passages I wished were not there, yet I have remained convinced of God’s sovereignty, so those passages stood whether I liked them or not.

Without question the Scripture that bothered me the most, that wore on me like a dull headache that wouldn’t go away, came from Exodus 20. Tucked nearly in the middle of the Ten Commandments we find these words:
“I, the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those that hate me. . .”
Everything in me would protest. “God, that is so unfair! How can you hold kids responsible for their parent’s actions, or their grandparents or great grandparents? How can you call that justice? How can you call it love?

I am sure I read the rest of that section – at least occasionally, but I didn’t get it. I was too busy giving God a lecture on justice. He’s a pretty good listener, but for some reason He never argued with me – just listened to my rant. He was still God. He had the authority. He had the power. I had a responsibility to obey Him. But I didn’t have to like it.

It is not that many years ago I was reading through the same part of the Bible again. I could feel the tension rising as I approached those words. (I never feel compelled to read with great care the genealogies, or the lists in the book of Numbers, although I do enough historical research to greatly value that such information is given with meticulous detail.) This though – the Ten Commandments – is absolutely central to the Old Testament, and still of great importance to the New Testament. It was and is God’s Word, so I had to read it. I had to try to digest it and align my life to it – BUT – God was more than smart enough to know I didn’t like it – so I didn’t need to even pretend.

For some reason that day, I actually took in what the rest of the verse says:
“but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
I don’t remember any thunderclap of revelation – just a draining away of anger, a slowly growing sense of awe as a new thought rattled around in my head and finally took root.

God is unfair! It remains true – even truer than I used to think – but in an awe-inspiring way. Look again at Exodus 20: 5-6:
“I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those that hate me, BUT showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
The ratio is 250 to 1 of love over punishment. God is unfair, but the unfairness is all in our favour. He takes the penalty for our carelessness, our thoughtlessness, and even our deliberate sin, and pours out love toward us.

Consider this. If the average age of the next generation being born is estimated at 20 years, that promise of blessing stretches for 20,000 years. The Bible places the creation of Adam about 6,500 years ago – that is assuming the very detailed genealogies and precise dates given in the Bible are literal rather than symbolic as some people try to argue. That means we are still on the receiving end of God’s promised love from Adam, and from every generation since that has honoured God – while at most the sins of our Great-Great Grandparents are still plaguing us. It also means our children and grandchildren for the next 13,500 years are heirs of that promise stretching all the way back to Adam.
Even if you don’t take Genesis literally – that promise still has a 20,000 year extension clause attached – Not quite what you typically see on a Limited Warranty.

There are a couple more factors as well. “Jealously,” as used in this passage, is part of the language of marriage. God is looking for an exclusive relationship. He is not interested in an open marriage with multiple lovers– so even the negative part of this passage uses the vocabulary of love. Also, punishment is restorative, not destructive – again, an act of love.

God is not fair! He takes the burden of all my stupid acts, whether careless or intentional, and still loves me.

There are times in your life and in mine when we can say with a lot of reason that life is unfair. There is a lady in our church who was doing her devotions when she was sexually assaulted. That seems to me awfully unfair. A lot of the people living on the streets have good reason to think that life is unfair. But God – though He doesn’t always show His power the way and in the timing we think He should – has proven His love over and over. He has promised blessings with a 20,000 year extension plan attached – and that is before you factor in eternal life. He has planned – with the full cooperation of His Son, Jesus, a cruel sacrificial death – so that justice could be served yet we could be set free.

God is unfair – incredibly so – and the unfairness is all stacked in our favour. I guess I can put up with that and not complain quite so loudly as I once did.

1 comment:

violet said...

Wonderful post, Brian! You explain it eloquently.

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