This post was first published during December 2015. –ed.
That’s not fair!
That plaintive wail echoes across playgrounds, dining room tables, sports arenas, comment threads, and opinion pages. Built into each of us is a strong sense of what is and isn’t fair, and we’re often quick to complain when inequity appears.
Never mind that—apart from the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit—our whole perspective is based on a false, subjective definition of what is truly “fair.” Lost in the corruption of sin, we cannot accurately measure what fairness looks like in terms of eternity—and if we could, we wouldn’t want it.
Nevertheless, unsaved men and women routinely retaliate against the gospel with well-worn complaints about God’s apparent unfair treatment of sinners and inequities in His plan of salvation. To prepare you for the complaints you’re sure to encounter from friends and family this Christmas season, we’ve been looking at some of these common gripes, and considering how the unfairness God displays through His Son is actually a tremendous blessing.
Why doesn’t God punish all the evil in the world?
The world shudders at names like Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, and Pol Pot—tyrants and despots of the last century responsible for countless deaths during their reigns of terror. And despite our modern claims to enlightenment and refinement, the world today is just as wicked and violent. We reel in horror at the murderous rampage of ISIS through the Middle East. Even within polite society, there’s a ghastly, ongoing genocide against the unborn.
We’re surrounded on all sides by evil, and not all of it is violent or even obvious. Countless men and women twist Scripture and pervert the truth while claiming to speak for God. Others use the promise of divine blessing to build empires through the funds they extort from desperate and naïve followers—usually those who can least afford it. Worse still, they’re leading countless men and women to hell through their damnable heresies.
But if you’re looking for empirical evidence of Adam’s fall, you don’t need to go beyond your own front door. No one had to teach your children to disobey, lie, and be selfish—they were born with an advanced degree in sin, just as you were, too. As we’ve already seen, the extent of our sinfulness is greater than we like to imagine, and the holiness of our Judge is beyond our comprehension.
Is God mad about evil? You bet. Two thousand years ago, He walked among us as a sacrificial Lamb. But when He returns, He’s coming as a Lion to make war with His enemies (Revelation 19:11–16). He will deal with the tyrants, terrorists, and televangelists—but He won’t stop there. He will also punish liars, thieves, blasphemers, idolaters, and the sexually immoral (Revelation 21:8). In fact, His judgment will cut to the very core of unbelieving hearts, extending even to their thought lives, where sexual fantasies amount to adultery (Matthew 5:27–28) and hatred equals murder (Matthew 5:21–22).
It’s easy to long for God to deal with the evil out there, but we wouldn’t want to invite the same scrutiny and judgment into the darkest corners of our own hearts. The staying of the Lord’s hand is a worldwide blessing and mark of God’s glorious unfairness. God’s greatest gift to unbelievers right now is the time they still have to repent—but that time is running out.
The right question isn’t “Why doesn’t God punish all the evil in the world?” but “Why hasn’t God punished me for my sin?”
The Ultimate Unfairness
When we peer at the baby in the manger, we need to remember that He was born to die. God’s unfairness culminated at the cross some thirty-three years later: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). As John MacArthur summarizes, “God treated Him as if He committed believers’ sins, and treats believers as if they did only the righteous deeds of the sinless Son of God.”
The world sees God’s unfairness as a cause for complaint. But in reality, it should be a source of relief. Sinners desperately need God’s mercy—and nothing is more unfair than mercy. Nowhere is that better displayed than in the sacrificial death of His Son. God’s glorious unfairness is manifest in the fact that He sent Christ to earth instead of sending us to hell. He lived a righteous life on behalf of evil people, and paid an eternal debt we could not afford. What could be more unfair?
When this matter is settled in our hearts, so many worldly complaints melt away. We can savor this Christmas and remember Jesus’ arrival on earth as the beginning of the most gloriously unfair period of human history.
I pray that you will spend this Christmas meditating on these glorious truths, and that you’ll be well equipped to answer the complaints of an unbelieving world. Take comfort in the mercy God has shown to you, and invite others to rest in His glorious unfairness.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1–3)