God Is Not Fair

Lina AbuJamra
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Consider David, arguably the greatest king of Israel. He had an affair with a married woman named Bathsheba. If you grew up in the church you might have accepted the assumption that she gave her consent but, in a #metoo culture, it’s hard to downplay the power dynamic between the King of Israel and Bathsheba. David got Bathsheba pregnant, then got her husband killed in battle in order to hide his sin. God knew the details and still allowed Bathsheba’s husband Uriah the Hittite to die. For a while, it seemed as if David got away with murder. Eventually David was confronted with his sin. He repented, and there were consequences to his sinful choices, but today he’s still known as a man after God’s own heart.

The New Testament may not be as full of violence as the Old Testament, but God continues to hone in on this concept of what He deems to be fair.

My least favorite parable is the one that Jesus tells in Matthew 20:1–16. A man hires a worker early in the morning and agrees to pay him a denarius. At nine in the morning, he finds another worker and promises the same denarius for a day’s work. At noon another laborer is hired for the same amount, and at 3 p.m. and at 5 p.m., a few more laborers are gathered, all promised that same measly denarius. Come payday, the landowner gathers the workers and pays them what was promised, a denarius each. Understandably, if you were hired at 5 p.m., payday sounds like a dream. But if you were hired early in the morning, it feels like a kick in the gut.

“Over and over again God seems to give mercy to those who deserve judgment.”

That’s the story Jesus uses to illustrate life in the Kingdom. Which leads to the obvious questions: Why? Why does Jesus highlight a parable that makes God look so unfair?

Over and over again God seems to give mercy to those who deserve judgment. He punishes those who don’t seem to deserve it. He longs to save the people we long to avoid, people like prostitutes and thieves and adulterers. While His ways sound noble at first, imagine a savior who gravitates towards the Bernie Madoffs and Harvey Weinsteins of our world. Doesn’t seem so palatable, does it?

My first medical missions trip to the Middle East to serve Syrian refugees was eye-opening. Though I had grown up in Beirut and had lived through the horrific Lebanese civil war, I wasn’t prepared for the stories I heard from the patients who, one after the other, walked through our clinic each day. Every mother had lost a child. Every child had lost their innocence in one way or another. Every family had lost material belongings. No one was protected from the atrocities of war.

As the refugees settled into their temporary tents in Lebanon, I learned more about the inequities in the world. Illiteracy was rampant among refugees. School was a luxury. Jobs were menial. Please understand that I’m not naïve to the pain in the world. I’ve spent the last two decades caring for the poor and marginalized in the ER. I’ve traveled to resource-poor countries repeatedly to provide people with medical care. But I wasn’t prepared for the masses of people who were suffering just a stone’s throw from my home country. Millions of people had become victims of evil simply because of where they were born. Their families of origin and their DNA put them in a place where basic survival was not guaranteed.

Where was God in their story?

Where was God in 1948 when my mother, a seven-year-old Palestinian kid, was kicked out of her home in Jerusalem along with her mother, father, and two siblings by the Israeli army with nothing but the shirts on their backs? Where was God when they landed in Lebanon months later, strangers in a land not their own, embarking on a new life where they would always be considered less than, unwanted, and undesirable?

Life is not fair. Most of us figured that out in elementary school.

Yet most of us still dream of a God who will set every wrong right someday. We dream of justice while we talk about what’s fair.

For Further Reading:

Fractured Faith

by Lina AbuJamra

After your faith has fractured, let what takes its place be the real thing . . . at last. Somewhere along the way, the Christianity you knew...

book cover for Fractured Faith