Is God Unfair in How He Treats People?

Matthew 20

1“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the owner of an estate who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.

3“At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. 4So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. 5At noon and again around three o’clock he did the same thing. 6At five o’clock that evening he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’

7“They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’

“The owner of the estate told them, ‘Then go on out and join the others in my vineyard.’

8“That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. 9When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 10When those hired earlier came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11When they received their pay, they protested, 12‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

13“He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? 14Take it and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be angry because I am kind?’

16“And so it is, that many who are first now will be last then; and those who are last now will be first then.”
(Matthew 20: 1-16, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Have you ever been treated unfairly or unjustly? As a kid, when things didn’t work in my favor, I would usually cry out, “that’s not fair!”

But what is fairness? What is just and what is unjust?

In this passage from Matthew 20, Jesus shares a story that may cause you to rethink your view and understanding of fairness and justice.

In the scenario, a vineyard owner goes out early in the day and hires a number of day workers to work in his fields. He agrees to pay them the normal accepted wage for their labor.

At mid-morning the owner hires more workers, agreeing to pay them whatever is right at the end of the day. The owner hires more laborers at noon and again at 5:00, just one hour before the end of the day.

When the work day ends and it’s time to settle up with the workers, those who had worked only 1 hour receive their pay, which turns out to be a full day’s wages.

Naturally, those who worked the full day think they will receive more since they worked longer.

But when the time comes to pay those who worked all day, they receive the same amount that the owner paid those who worked only 1 hour. The workers who worked all day are incensed. How could the owner pay them the same amount even though they worked a whole day when the last group worked only for one hour? It doesn’t seem fair!

What do you think? Was the owner being unfair? Your answer may reveal how you view God and His system of fairness.

The problem is not that the owner is unfair. The problem is that our understanding of fairness is wrong. People tend to operate on a merit based system, or a meritocracy, where those who work harder and achieve more are rewarded more. As a result, we’re conditioned to believe that those who worked less somehow got more. BUT THEY DIDN’T. They got the same outcome and the same payment as those who had worked the full day.

God, who is represented by the vineyard owner, does NOT operate in a meritocracy. God operates in an environment of grace and generosity. He lavishes grace on whomever He chooses. While some might look at this story and conclude that God gave a higher hourly wage to some over others, which seems unfair, Jesus invites the reader and His audience to look at this scenario in a different way.

Instead of assuming God is treating some favorably over others, the point of the story is that God shows compassion and graciousness on some while not disaffecting others. In other words, those who came to work late were generously given the same portion as those who worked the whole day.

Here’s the key point: Those who worked the whole day were not negatively disaffected by the owner’s generosity. They were simply annoyed because of their own greed and envy.

If you think of the daily wage as representing salvation, then in this parable, anyone who responds to the invitation of the owner, no matter how early or late, receives the same outcome – eternal life! It’s not possible for some who respond early to receive a greater amount of eternal life than someone who responds late. The outcome is the same – anyone who responds to the owner (God) will receive the gift of eternal life (a full day’s wage), no matter when they respond.

So what do you think? Does this story demonstrate that God is unfair to some? NO. If anything, it shows how gracious and generous He is while also showing that those who THINK He’s unfair are often motivated by their own jealousy and envy.

Reflection

How have you interpreted and understood this passage in the past? How have you explained the fact that the owner pays a higher hourly wage to some than others? Isn’t that unfair? Isn’t that inequitable?

What do you say to those who claim that God is unfair or that He doesn’t treat people equitably? 

How do you personally reconcile the idea that some come to Christ and serve Him early in life while others may respond to His invitation late in life and yet the outcome is the same? How does this contradict or confirm your own understanding of fairness with God?

What practical ideas do you have for cultivating a deeper, more biblical understanding of God’s graciousness and fairness?

 

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Brace Yourself!

Job 38

1Then the LORD answered Job from the whirlwind:

2“Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? 3Brace yourself, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.

4“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. 5Do you know how its dimensions were determined and who did the surveying? 6What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone 7as the morning stars sang together and all the angels*shouted for joy?

8“Who defined the boundaries of the sea as it burst from the womb, 9and as I clothed it with clouds and thick darkness? 10For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. 11I said, ‘Thus far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!’

12“Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east? 13Have you ever told the daylight to spread to the ends of the earth, to bring an end to the night’s wickedness? 14For the features of the earth take shape as the light approaches, and the dawn is robed in red. 15The light disturbs the haunts of the wicked, and it stops the arm that is raised in violence.

16“Have you explored the springs from which the seas come? Have you walked about and explored their depths?  17Do you know where the gates of death are located? Have you seen the gates of utter gloom?  18Do you realize the extent of the earth? Tell me about it if you know!

19“Where does the light come from, and where does the darkness go? 20Can you take it to its home? Do you know how to get there? 21But of course you know all this! For you were born before it was all created, and you are so very experienced! (Job 38:1-21, NLT)

Note: Read the entire chapter to see all of the questions God challenges Job with in this chapter.


The Daily DAVEotional

For the first 37 chapters of Job, we’ve listened to Job consistently defend his innocence against God’s so-called attacks on him, while his “friends” form a tag team of truth-tellers insistent on getting Job to admit his unrighteousness and recognize that he’s obviously experiencing punishment for some sinful act.

It’s at this point that God finally steps in and interrupts the conversation.

He begins with these two words:

“Brace yourself!”

God has some hard questions for Job, who, because he doesn’t understand why he is experiencing such calamity despite his sinless ways, concludes that God must get a rise out of bringing pain and hardship on people simply for the fun of it. I wrote about “Job’s Case of Cognitive Dissonance” here.

For the remainder of the chapter, God asks a series of rhetorical questions, the point of which is to underscore the fact that Job (as well as all humans) know almost nothing about God. He is so far above us, so much mightier and more powerful than us, how can we ever begin to think we can understand Him or His ways?

It is fashionable, especially in today’s culture to malign God’s character because His sense of justice or love or fairness does not match exactly with our own understanding.

Many think of God as selfish or narcissistic because He requires that we worship or “pay attention to Him.”

Others think of God as angry, wrathful or evil because he “slaughtered” all those people in the Old Testament.

But the truth is, we know virtually nothing about God. We think we know so much but we know so little. Our knowledge is limited and yet we think that our limited life experience gives us a front row seat to true enlightenment.

Just as God had some choice words for Job, He has those same words to those of us who might question His motives, His intentions and His character.

God created everything. Do YOU know how he did it? NO. Therefore, you can’t possibly understand the power and the process of creating the universe!

In addition to creating the universe, God also oversees the physical processes in the universe. He is in control of the sunrise and sunset.

What physical processes do you control and oversee? NONE!

So how can you criticize someone who is so far above you? You can’t understand the physical processes, but you think you can understand what justice is?

God’s point is that Job is responding from a position of utter ignorance when it comes to evaluating God, His motives, His character and His intentions.

We do the same thing today. We think that our understanding and our version of justice is correct, even though we have such a limited perspective and very little life experience when compared with the entirety of human history.

How arrogant is it to question the character of the God of the universe? It’s so arrogant that God employs sarcasm to illustrate the absurdity of Job’s baseless position:

But of course you know all this! For you were born before it was all created, and you are so very experienced! (Job 38:21, NLT)

In my mind, I imagine God saying what I might say to my kids, “But of course, you know EVERYTHING, don’t you?”

The obvious response to this is, “NO. You know NOTHING!”

Therefore, to take the position Job has taken, and to malign God’s character is nothing short of ridiculous!

Reflection

Have you ever lashed out at God and maligned Him for something you didn’t understand? What were the circumstances?

Why do you think people take the illogical position that our understanding of justice or love, or whatever is correct while God’s version of these qualities is distorted or warped?

What are some ways you can lovingly respond to those who might berate God and impugn His character?

 

Photo by Guillermo Ferla on Unsplash

Job’s Case of Cognitive Dissonance

1Then Job spoke again:

2“Yes, I know this is all true in principle. But how can a person be declared innocent in the eyes of God? 3If someone wanted to take God to court, would it be possible to answer him even once in a thousand times? 4For God is so wise and so mighty. Who has ever challenged him successfully?

5“Without warning, he moves the mountains, overturning them in his anger. 6He shakes the earth from its place, and its foundations tremble. 7If he commands it, the sun won’t rise and the stars won’t shine. 8He alone has spread out the heavens and marches on the waves of the sea. 9He made all the stars—the Bear, Orion, the Pleiades, and the constellations of the southern sky. 10His great works are too marvelous to understand. He performs miracles without number.

11Yet when he comes near, I cannot see him. When he moves on, I do not see him go. 12If he sends death to snatch someone away, who can stop him? Who dares to ask him, ‘What are you doing?’ 13And God does not restrain his anger. The mightiest forces against him are crushed beneath his feet.

14“And who am I, that I should try to answer God or even reason with him? 15Even if I were innocent, I would have no defense. I could only plead for mercy. 16And even if I summoned him and he responded, he would never listen to me. 17For he attacks me without reason, and he multiplies my wounds without cause. 18He will not let me catch my breath, but fills me instead with bitter sorrows. 19As for strength, he has it. As for justice, who can challenge him? 20Though I am innocent, my own mouth would pronounce me guilty. Though I am blameless, it would prove me wicked.

21“I am innocent, but it makes no difference to me—I despise my life. 22Innocent or wicked, it is all the same to him. That is why I say, ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’ 23He laughs when a plague suddenly kills the innocent. 24The whole earth is in the hands of the wicked, and God blinds the eyes of the judges and lets them be unfair. If not he, then who? (Job 9:1-24, NLT)


In Job 9, Job responds to the discourse of Bildad in Job 8, in which Bildad promoted what we know as prosperity theology. You can read more about Bildad’s distorted views of God’s justice in a previous post here, but the summary is that Bildad believes that any tragedy or hardship can be assumed to be a punishment from God for some sin or wickedness. Since Job was experiencing hardship, Bildad was encouraging Job to stop the innocence act and come clean with his sin.

It’s interesting that Job doesn’t dispute Bildad’s theological framework. In fact, he starts his response with, “I know this is all true in principle” as a prelude to then declaring his innocence.

Job understands certain truths about God – that he is mighty and He is the creator of everything. Job understands that God is in control and sovereign over creation.

But Job also gets some things wrong about God – questioning His character, saying that God “attacks for no reason, and he multiplies my wounds without cause.” (verse 17)

He paints a picture of a powerful God who doesn’t care. He says in Job 9.23 that “God laughs when a plague suddenly kills the innocent.”

His situation has given him a distorted view of God’s love and justice.

He believes that God finds him guilty even when he’s innocent (vs. 20).

Job assumes that everything he is experiencing is a punishment and because he is a righteous person, he concludes that God must punish for sport.

This is what happens when we go through trials or when things happen that either we don’t understand or that contradict our own reason – we end up distorting and skewing our own view of God.

This is what’s known as cognitive dissonance. When our understanding of a situation doesn’t match the reality, we create a narrative or a way of understanding that explains why the outcome doesn’t match my understanding, which I hold to be true.

Job firmly believes that his understanding of God is true (similar to what Bildad has asserted). Yet Job maintains his innocence, which makes his circumstances hard to understand.

Job has two choices. He can adjust his understanding of God in order to give coherent meaning to the tragic events he’s experiencing or he can create a narrative that would explain his circumstances while allowing him to maintain his initial view.

Job chooses the second option, which is the option of cognitive dissonance. In this option, Job holds fast to his wrong understanding of God’s justice, which means he is able to comprehend his innocence only by creating a distorted view of God, a demented being who “laughs when a plague suddenly kills the innocent.”

Reflection

What is your reaction when things happen that you don’t understand? 

Cognitive dissonance occurs when we hold certain views tightly without allowing for the possibility that our views may be wrong. What are some views or opinions that you might need to re-evaluate in order to avoid the danger of cognitive dissonance?

What are some ways a person can avoid the trap of cognitive dissonance?

The Prosperity Gospel in the Old Testament

1Then Bildad the Shuhite replied to Job:

2“How long will you go on like this? Your words are a blustering wind. 3Does God twist justice? Does the Almighty twist what is right? 4Your children obviously sinned against him, so their punishment was well deserved. 5But if you pray to God and seek the favor of the Almighty, 6if you are pure and live with complete integrity, he will rise up and restore your happy home. 7And though you started with little, you will end with much. (Job 8:1-7, NLT)


The book of Job is considered to be one of the earliest books of the entire Bible.

If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s essentially 40+ chapters of dialogue and discourse about the nature of God, particularly as it relates to His attribute of justice.

In the first two chapters we find Job, a righteous man, experience extreme, unspeakable hardships and tragedy as the Lord allows Satan to test Job’s faith and his character. Satan’s assertion is that the only reason Job is righteous is because he has everything he needs and wants. Satan contends that if pressured, Job would certainly curse God.

The whole premise of the book is interesting as it deals with the question of character and true devotion. Is a person considered righteous because of what he has (and does), or is he righteous because of who he is?

So God allows Job to experience hardship and tragedy. The rest of the book is a series of discourses  as Job repeatedly expresses his pain and anguish while his friends take turns lecturing him on why he should repent of the hidden sin that must’ve been the cause of his calamity.

In chapter 8, Bildad the Shuhite weighs in with his take on Job’s situation. What’s interesting about Job’s friends is that their understanding of God and His character, particularly His attribute of justice, is wrong in different ways. Interestingly, their theological errors are still being promoted today in many modern day false gospels. Here Bildad espouses a view that clearly is the forerunner to what today is known as “prosperity theology”.

Prosperity theology basically teaches that if you follow the rules (do good), you will be blessed. If you don’t follow the rules, then calamity will ensue.

Bildad’s prosperity theology can be seen most clearly in verse 4, where he says that bad things are the result of sin, as well as verse 7, where he contends that seeking God’s favor results in “much”.

Bildad’s argument can be summed up as follows

1. God is just

2. God doesn’t punish just people

3. Job is obviously being punished. Therefore, Job must be unjust

Bildad understood that God is just but misunderstood how God’s justice is applied. Specifically, he thought God’s justice was always applied in the way outlined above.

In addition, Bildad assumes that anything bad that happens to a person is a result of God’s punishment, and the punishment is a result of sin. This is false.

The truth is that bad things often happen to good people but it doesn’t mean that they are being punished because of some secret sin.

Prosperity theology is popular with people because it gives a quick and easy formula to explain all the bad things that happen to us. But prosperity theology fails because God is not a formula. He’s an infinitely complex being whose ways are ultimately mysterious and beyond our comprehension. If you keep reading the rest of the book of Job, you’ll see how this becomes more clear throughout the book.

Reflection

In what ways have you tended to embrace Bildad’s prosperity theology as an accurate description of how God metes out justice?

If you were Bildad, how would you change what you say to Job to more closely match the true nature of God’s justice?

 

Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

Don’t Put Confidence in Powerful People!

Psalm 146

1Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, I tell myself.

2I will praise the LORD as long as I live. I will sing praises to my God even with my dying breath.

3Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there.

4When their breathing stops, they return to the earth, and in a moment all their plans come to an end.

5But happy are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the LORD their God.

6He is the one who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. He is the one who keeps every promise forever,

7who gives justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry. The LORD frees the prisoners.

8The LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts the burdens of those bent beneath their loads.The LORD loves the righteous.

9The LORD protects the foreigners among us. He cares for the orphans and widows, but he frustrates the plans of the wicked.

10The LORD will reign forever. O Jerusalem, your God is King in every generation! Praise the LORD! (Psalm 146:1-10, NLT)


We live in perhaps one of the most polarized times in the history of our country. Wherever you may align yourself on the political spectrum, it’s easy to think that all of the problems in our country could be solved if everyone agreed with our views and our solutions.

By extension, we can be fooled into thinking that if people who align with our political persuasions can come to power, things would be much better off.

The truth is, as the psalmist says in verse 3, the people who are in positions of authority really have no power to effect lasting change. Why? They are mortal. Being mortal doesn’t just mean that they are subject to death but it also means they are susceptible to all of the vices that mortals are susceptible to – greed, power, corruption, and pursuing their own self-interests.

This is not to say that people cannot effect change or that we shouldn’t give careful thought to who we vote for public office. There is no doubt that the right people can make a huge difference in our communities.

But we shouldn’t put our confidence in them because ultimately, they cannot help. Only the Lord can. Only the Lord ALWAYS keeps his promises. He is righteous and just and he is concerned for the orphan, the widow, the poor and oppressed.

In addition, only the Lord can meet our deepest spiritual needs. And because He is the eternal King, we can ALWAYS depend on him. Political parties are always changing, which means that the perspectives, approaches and solutions to the issues of the day are constantly shifting as well. But God is eternal. He never changes and He doesn’t change His opinion or His approach.

Thus, the psalmist can say, “He is King in every generation!”

Amen!

Reflection

In what ways can you tend to trust in politicians and people of power to effect change?

While still being politically active and responsible, how can you ensure that your ultimate trust is in the Lord and not people?

 

Photo by Cameron Smith on Unsplash