Study Guide: [Unfairness] Happens

Sunday April 3, 2011 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

Sometimes life appears to be completely random and arbitrary, especially when it comes to fairness. It can be bad things happening to good people or good things happening to bad people. In this sermon, Greg shows us that even though crap isn’t a part of God’s perfect plan doesn’t mean God doesn’t have a perfect plan for crap.

Extended Summary:

Imagine a small family living in 6th century Palestine. Things were going reasonably well for this family. They worked hard, earned a decent living, and were generally happy with their life. However, things suddenly started to change. There were repeated bandit attacks, the local economy began to falter, and the weather wasn’t cooperating and was creating poor conditions for farming. Worst yet, a group of collectors took their little boy and sold him into slavery in order to pay the family’s debt.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the known world, there was a man named Daniel that was stuck in a different country because his people had been taken into slavery. He prays for awhile that God would speak to him. Eventually, God sends an angel, but it takes that angel 21 days to reach him because the angel was detained.

The first part of this story is fiction (as far as we know); however, Daniel’s story is recorded in the book of Daniel. We know from psalm 82 that angels have particular jobs in this world, just like humans have jobs. Some of these jobs include warfare against the forces of darkness in this world. It’s not entirely out of the question that when the angel visited Daniel, he had to leave his current post of guarding the town with the small family. Of course, the chain of events are never that simple, but we can use this story to illustrate that bad things can happen to good people, and it’s not God’s will that it would happen that way.

Life, and fairness, seems to be arbitrary and random in this world. Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. Some people like to say that it’s God’s will or that it is all about the humans interacting with each other. It seems that the explanations either blame God or blame people, and neither explanation fits scripture. When it comes to unfairness, we may just have to accept that this world isn’t fair. There is no easy explanation for this, because the conditions and reasons for something happening can be complicated and messy.
It’s like throwing multiple stones into a still pond. When you throw the first stone, there are ripples that flow from where the stone hit the water. It’s easy to see its effect on the pond. However, if you throw a second stone, its ripples begin to interact with the first stone’s ripples, and it becomes more difficult to distinguish the effects of the two different stones. Throw a few more stones in, and the face of the water looks chaotic at best. Meanwhile, the poor fish in the pond are praying to their fish god for refuge from the storm.

There are many, many factors that have led to our current world. Some people want to say that unfairness is because of God’s will or because someone didn’t pray hard enough. When in reality, it’s much more complicated than that. The one thing we do know is that it is God’s heart and character to love his creation and work the best for them. But what do we do while living in this world and how do we deal with the unfairness that we see?

The first thing that we should do in this unfair world is to avoid the “unfairness trap.” It is a good thing to fight unfairness in this world, whether it’s racism, sexism, or any other type of unfairness in this world. However, sometimes we get stuck in a trap of wanting others to fix the unfairness in this world, whether it’s God, politicians, or loved ones. And we also need to be careful to know that this world will continue to be unfair, because if we don’t remember that, we’ll quickly get burned out and disillusioned by all of the crap that happens in this world.

The second thing we should do is cultivate the habit of blessing and praying for others. If we focus on ourselves and only pray for ourselves, we will quickly get stuck in the same problems and become miserable. However, if we pray for others, we can begin to see our troubles in the big picture of this world. It might not seem so unfair when our lives are compared to tsunami or earthquake victims. Just be careful to not completely cover up how you feel, as God does care about your problems too.

The third thing we should do is give thanks for every blessing. We can be quickly deceived into thinking that we’re “owed” stuff. Whether it’s a comfortable future or some other entitlement, we can easily focus on what we should get vs. what we are getting. However, God wants us to develop a mindset that we’re thankful for every blessing, no matter how small, and not a mindset of being thankful for things that haven’t come yet. We just might blame God if they don’t come.

Finally, trust that God is with us on the inside when dealing with unfairness crap. Even though we can’t feel God when we’re struggling, we know that God is right there with us and is working good into our situation. We trust that God can turn our crap into something good. We understand that just because crap isn’t part of God’s perfect plan doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have a perfect plan for crap. God brings a purpose to the crap in our lives, and he won’t let us go to waste.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What additional questions and comments did you have about the sermon and supporting texts?
  2. What do you find unfair in this world?
  3. How have you dealt with unfairness in the past?
  4. Did Greg’s sermon give you new avenues to explore when it comes to unfairness?
  5. What are some practical ways in which you and those around you can deal with unfairness in this world? How can you help each other find God amidst the crap in your life?