Phil Mickelson is a better golfer than I am. He was born with amazing hand/eye coordination, and an awesome ability to hit a dimpled white ball long and straight. No matter how much I try, no matter how much I play, I will never win even one green jacket.
George Clooney is better looking than I am. His dashing good looks and svelte physique allow him to make movies while I can only watch them. No matter how much weight I lose, no matter how much I pay for my haircuts, I will never look as sharp as Danny Ocean.
Andy Stanley is a better preacher than I am. His ability to share complex truths in simple terms blows me away. No matter how much I prepare, no matter how many degrees in Theology I may attain, I will never be good enough to stay in his league.
We are not all the same. Some are smarter than others. Some are more talented than others. Some have more opportunities than others. We are not all the same. Is it possible that the world is not fair? Does this bother you?
Well, yes, it does bother us . . . especially when we find ourselves NOT on the Mickelson/Clooney/Stanley side of things. As Americans we have a deeply embedded value: that all people have a chance. We are a country where Butler can play for a national championship, Barack Obama can be President, and first generation immigrants can found successful businesses. Ellis Island is one of our national landmarks, and we promise an American Dream that sees thousands cross our borders every year in search of a better life. When our sense of fairness is violated, we pass laws to correct the ship. Affirmative action, stimulus bills, and many other government programs are designed to make opportunities more equal for all.
Because of our strong interest in fairness, we have a big problem with a particular web of biblical truth, knit together with contemporary facts. The Bible says in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else (but Jesus), for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” However currently there are 2.5 billion people on the planet who do not know the only name by which they might be saved. 2.5 billion people will go to sleep tonight and not know the difference between Jesus Christ and Jesus Jones (the 90’s rock star who had a the one hit wonder, “Right Here, Right Now.”) Most of these 2.5 billion have no real (by human standards) prospects of ever hearing about Christ in their lifetime because no church or Christian movement of any size exists in their region, speaks their language, or understands their cultural bubble. Contrast that with a church on every corner and a Christian bookstore the size of Wal Mart in most American towns of any size, and you have stacked deck. We simply have more opportunity than 2.5 billion others. When it comes to the things of Christ, we have a green jacket advantage.
Now, many times this causes us problems because we assume that God is fair. We assume that the God of our Bible always gives the same opportunity to everyone. If we try to do that as Americans, shouldn’t God do that for all people on the planet? In fact, we are so convinced that God should be fair, we condemn Him for “favoritism” as if it is a dirty little secret He is hiding from the world.
In fact, God is quite open about His bias: He chooses some and not others. Romans 9 tells us clearly that God has only chosen some for salvation. In 9:6-13 He says this, “It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: ‘At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.’ Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad–in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls–she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” As hard as this is for us to grasp, God is clear that our salvation is much more about His choice of us than it is about our choice of Him. Certainly, every believer in Christ has chosen to follow Him (and that is a legitimate choice), but our choice to follow is only made possible because of His choice to save.
So, if God is unfair, does that mean that He is also unjust? I mean how can He judge 2.5 billion people for rejecting a Man they have never heard of? The answer to this question is clear in Romans 9:14, “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all!” The idea here is that God would be completely justified in not saving ANYONE because all have sinned and fallen short of His glorious standard. The fact that only some are saved is a demonstration of His sovereign grace. He is not fair, but He is just and gracious.
Now before we want to put God on trial for His lack of fairness, we need to consider two things: 1. If He were truly fair, and all of us were given the same shot to try to choose Him on our own, then the Bible says that we would ALL make the wrong choice. If salvation were based on fairness, Jesus would have never died for all (how fair is that) and we would have been left to our own merits and would have all failed miserably. Praise God that He is not fair! 2. God is not racially biased. Right now, as Americans, it may seem like God has chosen more white English speakers than anyone else, but in the world today, there are more Chinese speaking Christians than Bible-belters. The vast majority of the redeemed today have dark colored skin and live outside of North America. The Gospel was initiated on middle-eastern streets, not wall street. God is not western biased. Certainly Americans have an opportunity advantage to hear the Gospel message, but remember, opportunity alone does not make one saved. Jacob and Esau (from Roman 9) had the same family and same human opportunities, yet Jacob was chosen and Esau was not. In the doctrine of election, it is no less “unfair” for God to not select an Oklahoman than it is for God to not select a North African. In the end, people from every tribe, tongue, and nation are called by God to receive salvation, but no one tribe, tongue, or nation will be universally saved.
So, what are we to do? First off, I think we should thank God for His lack of fairness. It was His lack of fairness that allowed Him to punish His Son for our sinfulness leading to our salvation. Second, we can accept Jesus invitation to participate WITH HIM in telling the 2.5 billion who have not heard the Good News what Jesus offers mankind. Though God has only called some, He has called some and He wants to call them through our mouths and message. We can pray for the lost, contribute to international and domestic evangelistic efforts, or even go to the mission field ourselves on short or long term stints. God knows the 2.5 billion by name.
5 thoughts on “Is God Unfair?”
” Certainly, every believer in Christ has chosen to follow Him (and that is a legitimate choice), but our choice to follow is only made possible because of His choice to save.”
This sentence doesn’t ring logical to me. I’m not even quite clear on what the primary point is, since it makes many points: 1) he chose to pursue us and offer a gift, 2) we chose to accept 3) our choice is legit, perhaps meaning that it is indeed a free and independent decision 4) our will would be moot unless he first made the whole notion possible.
But 4) doesn’t speak to whether his work making it possible is sufficient for us to choose. So, do we generate our own response, or does God initiate #2 above also? Basically, what do you mean by “a legitimate choice”?
Just thought you might be able to clear up these minor questions real quick!!!
Good question. At times there are difficulties to communication through blog posts. Sometimes a topic is so large that an explanation would be so lengthy and it feels cramped inside the “short” media format. This is one of those instances. Even when I wrote the sentence above I thought, “That will probably raise more questions that need to be answered . . . ” but alas, I wrote it anyway. I plan to write another post on the subject of free will later and will explore this idea more. In short, however, I will say this . . . the Bible consistently asserts two things: 1. God chooses us. 2. He implores us to choose Him. Further, our lives are full of choices that we make. I can choose to do so many things in my life without feeling the “puppet strings” working. Therefore, though it may not seem logical to assert the sovereignty of God and the legitimate choices of mankind, it certainly is biblical to assert that. How these two resolve is ultimately something beyond (in my opinion) the limitations of our human reasoning. If we ever deny one of these two truths (His choice/our choice) we end up in heresy. If we deny His choice, we make salvation about us. If we deny our choice, we drain the meaning out of all the offers/commands of Scripture. We must maintain belief in both for the Scriptures to say what they say . . . even if it does not always make sense to us.
I certainly agree that the Bible speaks of both basic truths. As you said, the first (the reality of his sovereign choices) is explicitly taught. The second (our choice) is implicit. I find it difficult logically to hold both to be completely true, but very appropriate out of worship, faith, and experience following God.
I recently jabbered with a friend on the subject, and came up with a question: “Is it possible for a creator (implying: with all foreknowledge and all power to craft according to that foreknowledge) to create a being with free will. Isn’t this a contradiction in terms?”
I probably shouldn’t risk these questions in this post of yours, since it is slightly off-topic from your main point that God did not make all lives on earth equal with respect to a person’s exposure to the Truth. But the one word in your post that rang bells for me was ‘fairness’.
I wonder if a philosophical discussion of this word would yield much subjectivity. A thought I’ve had recently that avoids this, is that fairness is not quite relevant. The appropriateness of us having to bear the moral/eternal consequences for our actions (or in the context of this blog, our inaction in choosing faith in Christ), has nothing to do with the freedom of our will. Rather it is simply a division that God has set up in the world. Certain actions are good and garner approval. Certain ones are bad and result in punishment. There is no excuse available that we were predisposed to one or the other choice. We are simply judges on what we do (and believe as an ‘act’ of faith). In this sense, God is fair, since there is a single standard by which a life is judged.
My friend objected that a robot should not be condemned for its actions (instead it is the creator that is responsible), and I’ve been chewing on this ever since.
My apologies if I’ve hijacked the thread. I’ll be patient from here on for a separate post more directly addressing this.
Hi Mark! Great post. I think one of the biggest challenges and rewards of a post/series like this is how often times it raises up more questions. One question answered, another question raised! My question is related to your post, but also stems out of being immersed in non-Christian country. Romans 9:16, 18 reads: “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy… So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” I wholeheartedly believe that God’s primary purpose is not to save sinners, but to glorify himself (as explained in vs 17), but, how do we accept the goodness of God if he creates people that are destined for “weeping and gnashing of teeth?” Is it only through praising him for his grace towards us in this, or is there something else we can hold on to?
There may not be a clear answer to this one, but I thought I’d throw it out there anyway. Aren’t you glad you started this series? 🙂
Great column, Mark! To me, it is thrilling and comforting to know that God didn’t leave my fate in my own foolish and ignorant hands, but instead chose me for Himself before the foundation of the world, and drew me to Himself, granting me repentance and faith.