“It’s not fair.”

Can you remember a time when you said these words? They reveal our expectations. We want something to go a certain way and believe it should. We have expectations. And, when it doesn’t, we often utter the familiar phrase, It’s not fair.

I believe this type of reflex can be unhealthy for our relationship with God. It can impede our sanctification and hinder our understanding of the gospel.

Before you tune me out as insensitive and unreasonable hear me out. I do believe there are tons of things that happen in life that are unfair. People treat us unfairly, and we do the same to others. It’s not right and certainly isn’t ideal, but it’s part of living in a post-Genesis 3 world. It’s going to happen, and it stinks. I hate it. But what I’m focusing on here is the unhealthy practice that projects this framework upward to our understanding of God. It can color the way we understand his interaction with us and negatively influence our interaction with him.

It’s natural for us to say that something is not fair when another person treats us unjustly, or someone gains an advantage even though they have not played according to the rules. But, with God, it doesn’t work this way. Unlike people, God is, at his core just. He is also good, holy, and unchanging. This means that he never does anything wrong, is always good, perfectly moral, and will never change. By definition, God will always be fair. At the same time, he is gracious. He gives people what they don’t deserve. Life itself is a gift. Salvation from sin is because of his grace. When we are thinking biblically, we can never say God himself and his dealings are unfair.

But we have.

Sometimes we as Christians might think that we deserve certain things because of what we have done or because of what we haven’t done. For example, we might be tempted to question God’s fairness when, after doing our best to obey and honor God we endure seasons of intense hardship and difficulty. Parents may wonder why a child is wayward after they have worked hard at parenting, teaching them the things of God, and attempting to keep them from worldly influences. Single people might begin to question God’s fairness when they look around and see their friends getting married and having children while they remain single, despite their obedience to God and persistent prayer to be married. A faithful servant of Christ might question the fairness of God after a serious medical diagnosis. Believers might ask why their unbelieving neighbor or coworker seems to enjoy more apparent blessings from God then they do. A faithful pastor might look at another church and wonder why God seems to be blessing them with growth while his church remains stagnant. Another might wonder about how fair it is for them to endure lengthy trials of what seems like pointless and painful struggles. Like Job, we might be tempted to question the fairness of God.

It is natural for us to think this way. But it’s also unhealthy.

We must remember that God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and love are not limited to the things in our life that we consider good. The doctrine of God’s providence teaches us that God upholds and governs all things by his fatherly hand. Nothing comes to pass apart from his sanction. Therefore, even the things we might be slow to embrace as good are working together for his glory and our good (Rom. 8:28).

Growing Christians must be able to recognize that we live in a fallen world where bad things happen and that God is sovereign over all things working them together for our good. These two are not in tension; mysteriously, both are true.

As a result, we often need to expand our thinking. Instead of simply thinking in terms of fairness we need to think about grace. We must think of God’s unmerited, gracious gifts when we are evaluating life. Whether we are talking about the good things we have or what we expect to experience, they all result from God’s grace (whether common or special grace). The reality is what we all deserve is hell. We have sinned against God and deserve due retribution (Rom. 3:23, 6:23). But instead, God has been merciful. He lavishes common grace upon believers and unbelievers alike (Matt. 5:45; James 1:16-18). Everyone gets far more than we deserve.

We’ll have a more nuanced view of what is and isn’t fair when our expectations are filtered through what the Bible teaches about depravity, providence, and grace. Not only will injustice in a fallen world makes us long for the age to come but it will also make us appreciate the abundant grace that God pumps into our lives and the world right now.