When It’s Not Fair

One of my pet peeves is when things aren’t fair. It’s actually funny how fast that gets me going. Even in a computer game. I play an online game that I believe has “balancing” issues, pairing me against players I have no chance with, and dropping me into the game in the worst possible place. I get frustrated for a while, and then I remember that they let me play for free, but to win all the time, I would need to spend money. The imbalance is a design “feature”.

But life, the big things in life, sweeping events of history, social and cultural trends, and opportunities, we tend to believe those should be fair. That may be a classic “Americanism”, honestly. I can claim that, about myself, perhaps. Although, I suspect that other cultures without that sense of “fairness” have lost it due to cynicism, they’ve lost hope.

The reason I suspect this is because of the concept, at least in Western thought, of justice. The statue is a woman, she’s blindfolded, holds an unsheathed sword in one hand and a pair of scales in the other. The ideas embodied in that image are compassion, a refusal to judge by what is seen on the surface, execution of judgement and equality. The blindfold was added later it seems, but the other elements have been around since the Ancient Greeks.

We have reached a point when one of the common lessons we pass on is that “life isn’t fair.” But think about that. Why do we need to teach that? Why is that expectation so deeply ingrained, it’s instinctive. Life is supposed to be fair, and it isn’t. The removal (or suppression) of that instinctive expectation leaves us with this blank, a cipher, a vacuum in our soul abhorred by our human nature.

The question for us all is, “How will we respond to the unfairness of this life?” Will we stop and complain, for a very long time? Will we stuff those feelings, and “soldier on”? Will we weep for what is lost, and seek that which is missing? I believe it’s fair to say that everyone chooses one of those three options, however they define the option or describe the outcome or benefit.

As disciples of Jesus, how are we to respond to the unfairness of this life? Well, consider Jesus, as Paul did, in Philippians 2:5-11.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 (NASB)

Was it fair that Jesus emptied Himself? Was it fair that the Divine took the form of a slave, being made in the likeness of the creature, though He is the Creator? Was it fair that He humbled Himself becoming obedient to the extreme of death by crucifixion? Was that fair? No. And the sheer unimaginable magnitude of the Divine Creator choosing to endure all of that offsets overwhelmingly the scales of justice. Now it’s unfair, but in our favor.

Really? It doesn’t feel that way when I get up in the morning. It doesn’t feel that way when I watch the news. It doesn’t feel that way when I talk to my family and friends enduring stress. It doesn’t feel as if the scales of justice and fairness have been tipped in my favor. It feels like the opposite, like I’m being oppressed, spiritually and emotionally, if not physically. But the truth is, I’m not being oppressed, in any way.

So, what do we, as disciples of our Divine Savior, do in response to the apparent inequality of this life? The answer found in Scripture, inspired by our Creator who saves us, is this: Hope in Heaven.

For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “IF EVEN A BEAST TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN, IT WILL BE STONED.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I AM FULL OF FEAR and trembling.”

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.

Hebrews 12:18-24 (NASB)

Do you see the contrast? The world, those outside the kingdom of Jesus, they see the first part, the blazing fire, the whirlwind, the darkness and gloom. It’s still our Creator, but it’s frightening, terrifying in fact. And it is true, He is all of that, and more.

We see the holy city and temple described in the next. We hope in the city with angels the assembly of those called out first, those perfected, and, best of all, our Creator, Savior, and Judge. Our Mediator, the One interceding for us is right there! That is what we hope in, that is why we can endure this life full of inequality, injustice, pain, and death. Those are the hallmarks of the devil, but the hallmarks of our Savior is abundant eternal life (John 10:10).

We, as disciples of Jesus, are to see things differently, act differently, speak differently. But this isn’t just about ourselves. If we see things from the perspective of our Creator, then we are to call out the works of the devil for what they are. We are to be different, and we are not to tolerate evil in silence. We are to speak out as our Savior spoke out while He walked this earth, loving Samaritans, honoring women, and blessing Gentiles. He wasn’t the typical Jewish male. Nor are we to be the typical human where we are.

What can you do in your community to push back against the darkness of the devil’s kingdom with the light of the abundant life of Jesus within you? Do that.


Limiting Vengeance

My family, on my dad’s side hales from West Virginia, the land of a famous feud between the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. It became legendary, and legend suggests it started over a pig, or something equally ridiculous. I now live in a place that had another such feud between families around the turn of the 20th-century. Two settler families hurt and killed one another over river ferry rights. It went on for over 20 years, and now neither family lives in the area.

Vengeance resonates with us, and the role of a “family avenger” goes back thousands of years, well past any sense of “honor”, back to family duty. But, it was supposed to be about justice, not angry vengeance. It was about balance, not just angry aggression. That’s difficult to do when we are wronged, when someone we love is taken from us by another. In our grief we are angry, at the loss, at the pain caused by another, and the fear it could happen again. And in response to these emotions, we want to make sure it never happens to us again.

That is not the way of our Creator. His way is significantly different, and a lot more sensible.

“If men have a quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, and he does not die but remains in bed, if he gets up and walks around outside on his staff, then he who struck him shall go unpunished; he shall only pay for his loss of time, and shall take care of him until he is completely healed.

Exodus 21:18,19 NASB

I love that phrase, “…he who struck him shall go unpunished”. Think about that. No vengeance for wounding someone. No city of refuge. The only requirement is to pay for his lost wages, and care for him until he recovers. That makes sense. In our day, we have insurance for such things, and don’t even think about it. We go to court to sue, seeking damages, and penalties, but here, we see God’s perspective is to restore balance. In our courts, vengeance seems to reign. But that isn’t the perspective of a disciple of Jesus.

“If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property.

Exodus 21:20,21 NASB

This one is more difficult. Here, the status of a slave, something God protected in the first law we looked at, appears relegated to “property”, yet only if injured. If the “owner” kills the slave, the law of the family avenger (blood redeemer) comes into play, along with the city of refuge, and so on. Owning a slave doesn’t entitle the owner to the life, only to the work the slave performs, and if the slave dies due to treatment, the owner is either treated as a murder, or at the minimum, is out all he paid for the person’s work.

It still seems harsh to our 21st-Century sensibilities that if the slave dies after a few days (the damage isn’t that bad), there is no punishment. Now I’m not loving that phrase as much. I don’t like thinking that this debt-slavery issue relegates this fellow Hebrew to property. Clearly, the protection and status of such slavery is limited, even by our Creator. The practice of indenturing isn’t a great institution after all. Our Creator and Savior limits the bad effects, but it’s still bad. On the other hand, wait for tomorrow.

“If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life,

Exodus 21:22,23 NASB

Does anyone else wonder how often this happened? Is it really enough that it winds up in the legal code? But think through the concepts at work. The life of the infant is what is at issue. If the infant dies, then the incident is handled as a killing. If it is injury, then the family and judges decide the penalty, but with limits. This next statement, in my opinion, is the point of the capital punishment and limiting laws.

But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Exodus 21:23-25 NASB

The point is that the penalty does not exceed the crime. The feuding between families happens when the penalty exceeds the crime, or there is no penalty for a crime. When balance becomes crucial, “Capulet-and-Montague” problems can be avoided. And, unfortunately, this is a problem for churches as well. It’s a sad irony, but those confessing Jesus as Lord still succumb to this problem. It happens because of unforgiveness, bitterness, and a failure to live out the lordship of Jesus.

Where have you, perhaps, held resentment, and wanted revenge rather than justice? Where might you need to forgive? Or, where have you failed to punish equitably? Do you need to address a sin which you have let pass? When we, as a community of disciples of Jesus, are commanded to love each other, hold each other accountable, and correct our fellow disciples. In doing so, we help each other on the path of discipleship, leaning on each other as we strive for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

So You Want To See Jesus…

“He said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow?  Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’ Then he said to the bystanders, ‘Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’  And they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas already.’  ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.  But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.” (Luke 19:22-27 NASB)

Why is it that we seem to forget the Bible, the whole Bible, prophets and all?  Why we do we find it so easy to create this cardboard version of Jesus who is so two dimensional? Why do we forget that He came to fulfill the law not abolish it?  Why is it so easy to forget that He came to divide not unify humanity?  The truth of Scripture is that Jesus is God, not a god, not some new god, and certainly not “God Transformed”.  He is God!

God, the One putting up with Israel’s wayward ways for 400 years while He sends prophets, is the One wiping them out with the pagan empire of Assyria.  And then, a hundred years later, Judah goes down by the pagan Babylonians.  Flash forward 400 more years, and Jesus becomes the same One pronouncing woes of judgement on Galilean cities and Jerusalem itself.  It’s as if the judgement of old was returning again, this time at His say so.

And then we have this parable.  Luke seems to intertwine a parable of a king, possibly using the ascension of Herod’s son Archaleus, with the parable of slaves use of money.  The point of the slaves with money is being enterprising with the resources God provides us until He returns.  The point of the king ascending a throne is opposing him does not go unpunished.

If Jesus is the king and master of the servants, then this picture of Jesus ought to make us uneasy.  Then we are to be responsible with what has been entrusted to us while He is away, making more of what was given.  Being industrious is rewarded, not doing anything with it is punished.  We have to agree to be ruled, to submit to the reign of Jesus over us.  That means agree to who He is not who we imagine Him to be.

And this isn’t meant to take away the love Jesus has for us.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus any more before His throne than it can now, or could before He ministered in person.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  But that doesn’t then change the personality of God into something other than what we read elsewhere in Scripture.  It’s both.  And that’s probably where we fail most often to our greatest detriment.

God did not have a personality break between the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.  He didn’t switch from wrath and anger to mercy and love.  He has always been all of that and more.  There has always been vast oceans of grace in the Hebrew Scriptures.  There has always been wrath in the Christian Scriptures.  So our challenge is read both and let God define for Himself who He is and how He will relate to us.  It’s tough, and it should be frightening to us.  But then again, the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom after all.

So, what do you see through your knothole this morning?  I hope I didn’t bring you down, but I do hope I sobered you up!  You may need sobering after last night…but that’s fodder for another post.

Why The Parable?

Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, (Luke 18:1 NASB)

And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?  I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:6-8 NASB)

It’s real easy to criticize.  Even when there’s nothing gained, no point for the person being criticized, or when the criticism is unfounded, it’s still easy.  What’s not so easy is understanding.  Sometimes, understanding comes from re-reading, reevaluating, and stopping to think.  It takes time for impatient people to understand when criticism is so readily available.

Take the parable of the unjust judge for instance, the reason given for the parable on the front end is persistence in prayer.  Yet Jesus says on the back side that God will answer swiftly.  If God answers swiftly, why the need for persistence?  And before you think this is simple, justice is becoming a hot-button topic in the world, and religious persecution, especially of Christians, is on the rise.  Obviously, there are examples of injustice to believers where God did not answer at all, at least not with the justice prayed for.

But it’s not that hard to understand either.  In the parable the widow (a disenfranchised person within that culture) was persistent in asking the unjust judge for legal protection.  What happens is she wears the judge down.  Jesus’ point is that God loves us and doesn’t need to be worn down to answer.  On the other hand, the speedy answer of God is justice for those crying out to Him day and night.  They were persistent in prayer.

But clearly when people have been persistent, God doesn’t necessarily answer the way they want.  Good parents don’t just grant their kids request because they’re persistent and wear them down.  Parents who want their kids to shut up might do so a couple of times, but then learn it doesn’t work and actually reinforces the problem you were trying to prevent.  God doesn’t give us whatever we want because we want it and persistently ask for it.  He gives us what He wants to give us because He loves us and knows what we don’t.

The difficulty here is that justice is something different than a toy, a car, success at work, or a nice house.  Justice is something that humans sort of expect or have some sense about when it’s absent.  Often justice becomes the coin of our relationship negotiations.  And yet it’s something most of us would have difficulty defining clearly.  Simply put, justice is receiving the decency due every human being.  Justice is present when people are treated with respect regardless of their characteristics.  That’s an oversimplification, but I think it’s close enough for our discussion.

Justice is received, not taken.  So, we can control what we dispense it to others, but we cannot control what we receive.  The penalty for injustice varies, but in general you only get back what you dispense.  And I believe that this is one of the primary reasons God teaches us as He does.  God is a just God.  And yet, to appease His sense of justice, He took our penalty on Himself.  As He does so, He also teaches us to follow His pattern in our human relationships.  We are to give justice without the expectation of receiving it back.  In other words we’re to give justice in exchange for injustice.

The whole point of the parable is to continue in prayer.  I think God loves our company more than anything.  And the justice we seek is actually already present in Jesus and what He has already accomplished through His death, burial, and resurrection.  We are justified before God, Maker and Sustainer of the universe.  What’s better than that?  Persistence in prayer puts us constantly in His presence, and that changes our sense of justice.  Mercy becomes the quality people see in us.  Mercy gives justice in exchange for injustice.  In a sense, we appease the injustice we receive by taking the penalty on ourselves.

So, as I face opponents in what I do for my King, injustice will often be what I receive as part of the deal.  My response to those people is supposed to be that mercy I received from my King.  The more time I spend in prayer to my King, the more often mercy will be my response.  As far as speedy justice from God, I think I have all I need already in Jesus.  But I will definitely keep praying for my brothers and sisters in persecution elsewhere.  They are legion, and the need is great.  Therefore I will need to be persistent on their behalf.

That’s my convoluted view through this particular knothole.  What do you see?

Some Rich Guy…And Lazarus

“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day.  And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.”  (Luke 16:19-21 NASB)

This parable isn’t one of the more difficult to understand, it’s just one of the more disturbing that Jesus tells.  It’s possible there are some literary genius elements in it, like that Lazarus is the only named character between the two, but never speaks.  But other points, primarily the details of the setting after death are particularly troubling.

For instance, does it bother anyone else that heaven and hell are within sight, and close enough to discern actual people?  Does it bother anyone that in heaven it’s possible to see tormented people in hell?  I think, if you’re like me, you sort of figured that they would be “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” for eternity.  I just never thought about it actually.  You, know, except for now.

Does it bother anyone that Abraham and the unnamed rich-guy can talk across the gulf that no one can travel across?  There’s no bridge, but they can shout at each other.  Isn’t that a bit too close for “comfort”?  How is the blessed existence of heaven possible when you can witness the torment of those who refused the kingdom of God?  That sounds a bit morbid or at least sadistic in nature.

So now the real question: If all that is accurate about the parable, did Jesus intend for it to be an accurate depiction of heaven, what John saw from Patmos?  I have heard it various ways: heaven & hell prior to the cross, heaven & hell prior to the final “new heaven/new earth” (during the “church-age” – nonsense), and so on.  Jesus simply leaves that question unanswered.

John’s vision on Patmos was different in a lot of ways, but some details he simply didn’t mention.  For instance, John mentions the “lake of fire” but doesn’t say whether it was visible from the “New Jerusalem”.  He has an abyss, but again it sounds like a lockable hole, temporary place for the Devil prior to the final battle.  Still no mention as to the “layout” and whether there was this “chasm fixed” that no one can cross.  So, it’s possible that John’s vision and this parable describe very similar settings.  How’s that for uncomfortable?

One of the real problems here is how this depiction seems to cast God in a unloving light, at least by our definitions of love.  Even if people in rebellious ignorance chose to go there, why leave both places within sight of each other for eternity?  Can you imagine an eternity of worship before the Throne of God with tormented souls as “backup”?  You can see them and hear them while worshiping with an unnumbered throng before the throne.  Seems some how discordant.

So what do we do with this depiction?  My favorite choice is to go with the main point, and trust God for the setting.  The main point is that the wealthy need to reach out to the poor in recognition of the Sovereignty of God; viewing themselves as equal with the poor.  It’s a matter of responsibility with the resources God has provided us, rich, comfortable, getting by, barely making it, stretching, or homeless.

If I focus on the obvious point, and let God worry about the “setting” after this life, then I’m not distracted sitting as judge over the Maker of the entire universe.  See the problem?  When we call God’s character into question, we do so at a very core level.  It erodes our faith just to do so.  If we believe that Scripture is inspired, that Jesus actually said these things, then draw the conclusion from those beliefs that Jesus reveals God as a very unloving harsh God; we reject other passages that say otherwise.

Part of the problem we face on this side of the “afterlife” is that we have little idea what we will be like on that side.  It could be that “the glory to be revealed” so far surpasses our ability to comprehend now that any vision of the torment of others actually becomes incorporated into the glory of God and His character.  To say that’s not possible from this side is fine, but impossible to actually know.  So the challenge is to learn the obvious lesson, and also hang on to what we already know about God.

That’s my view through this knothole…you?  What do you see?