Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: Life Is Not Fair

In her book, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Amy Kelly quotes William of Tyre following a particularly crushing defeat. "Surely", he said, "no one may question the acts of God, for all His works are just and right. But it remains a mystery to the feeble judgment of mankind why our Lord should suffer the French, who of all the people in the world have the deepest faith and most honor Him, to be destroyed by the enemies of religion".

William of Tyre was not the first person to feel that life is not fair, and certainly not the last. The Bible is replete with bitter complaints about the unfair aspects of life. In the 4th chapter of the Book of Genesis, Cain killed his brother Abel because he was jealous and felt that it was not fair for God to prefer Abel's offering.

The Book of Psalms is also rampant with complaints about the unfair aspects of life. The feeling that life is not fair was so strong in many of the Psalms that the Psalmists prayed for the Day of Judgment to come soon, in the hopeful expectation that if God has not been fair in this life, perhaps God will at least be fair in the final judgment. Thus, unlike the modern Christian, who tends to fear the Judgment, the ancient Jew looked forward to the Judgment. Having been wronged and treated unfairly in this world, the ancient Jew looked to the Day of Judgment as the court of final appeal in which he hoped to be vindicated.

The feeling that life is not fair starts early in life. You can hear the complaint among kindergarten children while they are at play. When did you last hear a child say, "But,why? That is not fair!"?

Even as adults, we still want the authority figures in our lives to give us guarantees that life will be fair. We want the banker to promise us that interest rates will not go up - or down - depending on which side of a loan we may be standing. We want our doctor to promise that we will not have a reoccurrence of an illness after treatment or surgery. We listen carefully to the weather forecaster, read financial predictions, surf the internet, study the most recent polls, and read the horoscopes in the vain hope of making life predictable. Predicting the future is big business in our society. Practically every major corporation has a sizeable budget for predicting aspects of the future which affects their business. But, in spite of these modern efforts to secure and insure the future, for the most part, life is not predictable. Loved ones die, relationships end, jobs fail, an election is lost, a hurricane or tornado destroys. There are no hard and fast guarantees.

Religious faith does not insure that we will live contentedly in a dependable, unchanging world; however, we hope it will enable us to live creatively with our insecurities. The efficacy of our faith can be measured in direct proportion to our ability to live creatively with unanswered questions. And one of the most common unanswered questions is, "But, why? That is not fair!" Jesus never promised us a road map, but he did promise to go with us. Jesus made no guarantees of absolute happiness, security, or good fortune, but he did promise his presence, comfort and, support along the way. The Gospel teachings of Jesus send us out to live by faith in a dangerous and uncertain world.

Winston Churchill is widely regarded as one of the greatest leaders in the Second World War. As Prime Minister he earned the respect of his country as he steadfastly refused to consider defeat, and was instrumental in insuring England's future. However, after the war was over, he unbelievably lost his bid for re-election. His wife tried to comfort him by suggesting that his defeat was probably a "blessing in disguise", to which Churchill replied, "If it is a blessing, it is certainly well disguised!". Whether it is a child experiencing her first emotional wound or one of us seasoned veterans, going through yet another life-changing defeat, a hardship never feels like a "blessing in disguise". It feels unfair, and defies simple explanations. There is no such thing as a "crip course" in the University of Adversity. No matter how optimistic we may try to be about bruises and wounds, a smiley face does not take away the hurt and disappointment, however privately we may hold them. It is axiomatic, however, that it is much easier to be optimistic and philosophical about the unfair experiences of others than about our own.

In spite of all our attempts to mollify the inexplicable and unfair edges of life by developing a positive attitude, it is important to move toward a realistic acceptance and understanding of life as a whole. The truth is that we live in a dangerous, and in many respects, an unpredictable world. Winston Churchill once cautioned the English people concerning war, "We realize that success cannot be guaranteed. There are no safe battles". In life, as in war, uncertainty is a predominant factor. If predictability and safety are essential requirements of life, then being born was a fundamental mistake. There are no guarantees.

I am not finished here. Stay tuned for more next week.