Many people complain that life is just not fair. But actually, when you think about, that’s a good thing.
The way to begin thinking about this is to ask ourselves what we had before God entered the picture; and of course, God entered the picture at the very beginning to give us life in the first place. Before that we had nothing at all. As long as we stay focused on where we began and realize that life itself is a gift, and birth is a sheer windfall for every one of us, then a spirit of astonishment and gratitude will never leave us. Before you complain to the Dealer about the hand that you have been dealt in life, you need to remember that if it wasn’t for the love and grace of God, you would not have been dealt any hand at all. When you forget that fact, and begin to make comparisons not to what you had at the beginning but to what someone else has, then the gratitude turns to accusation and grumbling, and faith and trust disappear. The ‘amazing grace’ of God isn’t only that your sins have been forgiven. Everything you have and everything you are, including the fact that you were even born, comes by the grace of God. There is no other source of anything.
Depending then on my ultimate point of reference, the words “life isn’t fair” come to mean diametrically opposite things. When I remember the nothingness out of which I came and that life is gift and birth is windfall, then I say: “Of course life isn’t fair. It is all grace from beginning to end. To be alive at all is to be ahead of the game, and even to be born is an undeserved blessing.” But if my beginning point is a comparison to someone else, the words “life isn’t fair” take on a negative tone.
The crucial issue is always the fairness or unfairness of life compared to what? The conclusions we come to at the end will be determined by where we chose to begin.
I once knew a family who had a beautiful baby girl born to them who was normal in every way except she did not have arms or legs. There was no explanation for this genetic abnormality. However, instead of wasting any energy feeling sorry for themselves or for the child, this courageous and resourceful family set about to take her home and provide her with every advantage that they could. As a result, she developed into a remarkably intelligent and interesting human being. Her mind and spirit were highly cultivated, even though she was never able to move herself one inch, feed herself, dress herself, or do any of the things that the rest of us tend to take for granted.
When she was some twenty years old, a roommate of one of her brothers came home from college to spend a weekend. He was shocked at the sight of such an extremely deformed human being. At the end of three days he said to this girl, “What keeps you from blowing up in rage against whatever kind of God would have allowed you to be born into the world like this?”
The young woman looked at the lad and said, “I realize that what I have may not seem like much when compared to what everybody else has, but I wouldn’t have missed the chance to be alive for anything! I’m able to think, to see, to smell, to hear, to taste. I have had access to the world’s great music and literature, and to a wonderful network of human relationships. When compared to what everybody else has, I know what I have may not seem like much. But when I compare what I do have to not having been given the opportunity to live at all, I am profoundly grateful to God for giving me this life.”
Here was a person who learned the secret of staying focused on the astonishing fact that all of life is a gift. Playing the hand I’ve been dealt, grateful to just be in the game, is far more important than comparing myself to other people and being jealous of the seemingly better hands they have been dealt.
This is why we should thank God that life isn’t fair. You see, it all begins in grace, not in entitlement, and staying close to this single fact is the best resource I know for making both the best and the most of the particular hand each of you have been dealt.
German preacher Helmut Thielicke was right when he said, “The goodness of God can never be seen through jealous eyes, for this involves looking in the wrong direction for what is most important. The goodness of God is only seen through the eyes of gratitude.”
So what are you looking at: your neighbors’ blessings, with envy; or your own, with gratitude?
–adapted from a piece by John Claypool, Episcopal priest (1931-2005)
Job 1:21-22 — (Job said), “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
Psalm 139:14a — I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Proverbs 14:30 — A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.
Psalm 103:2 — Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
Psalm 8:3-4 — When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?
O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.