Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Unfairness of God

I don’t think the Prodigal Son’s older brother gets a fair shake. 

In Luke 15 Jesus tells a story about a father with two sons.  The younger son proves to be a scoundrel, eventually imploding into a scandal that gutted the family’s net worth.   The older brother held his ground, remaining at home, pouring himself into the family business.  It’s safe to say that without him the place would have fallen apart.

If you’ve read the parable you know, of course, that this loser brother comes home, repents and is welcomed back with the family’s best bottle of Dom Perignon. The old father seems to forget all about the disgrace and wasted inheritance and simply throws his arms around the filthy shoulders of his homeless son.  The older brother sees his father cave completely on his boundaries and he stomps outside.  “This jerk has undone everything we’ve worked for and you slaughter the fatted calf!  I’ve slaved for you all these years and you’ve never even offered me a goat to barbecue with my friends!”

He has a point.  What good is it to work your gluteus maximus off when your slacker brother gets a better reward that you do?   Doesn’t all your work even matter? 

I’ve felt that way at times.  I’m dedicated my entire adult life to serving faithfully as a pastor, to being the best husband and dad that I possibly can…surely that’s got to count for something, right?  Certainly God could cut me a break on some of the struggles of life.  Yet there are all too many times when God seems to miss some great opportunities to make my life easier.  

At times like that, I find the older brother’s complaint feels pretty natural:  “Look, I’ve slaved for you all these years, and you’ve never even given me a goat (or break on car repairs, or a sudden surge in church attendance or some other fantasy come to life)!

When it comes right down to it, God has a strange sense of fairness.  The grace that led the father to welcome his runaway son is the same grace that leads him to offer a place in his family to spiritually-confused people like you and me who often have little clue just what He’s done for us.  And it’s the same grace that leads him to stoop to use quirky, sin-tainted folks like me to announce his good news to others who need it as badly as I do.

The point:  I thank God that He’s not fair.  His unfairness is our only chance. 

The issue for me is not really unfairness:  it keeps getting easier for me to see how much I benefit from God’s unfairness.  The issue for me is usually control.   I wish God would exercise his unfairness in a way that would conform more closely to my expectations.   I often wish He would work out his lavish grace in a way that would match what I happen to have on my Christmas list right now.

How about you—what does it take for you to settle into God’s grace?


  1. I have no problem knowing how much of a sinner I am. I mess up daily. That's why this passage teaches that God's grace is needed equally by all, even those who think obeying the rules will save them. They never could, the just will live by faith, not by the law. The older brother was so caught up in rules that he began to believe they were his saving grace, but then he witnessed grace given freely to a sinner.

  2. Ah, touching on my comment to your last blog, are you? :D

    Yes, logically in my head I know God's grace is, and should be, the same for all. When I pray "Forgive me as I have forgiven others who have sinned against me," I know I don't REALLY want that. I have too much older brother attitude.

    But then, as the older brother, I don't get mad at my father for showering his lost son with love. Fathers should love their children unconditionally, right? I tend to get mad at the stupid slacker brother who acted so... stupidly. I want to make sure that the jerk never treats me or my father that badly again, and I want to make sure he is trying to make up for it, though he probably can't. He shouldn't just SAY sorry, he needs to ACT sorry.

    Hmm... not loving enough?

    I know I've got to stop looking horizontally, and comparing myself to other imperfect people. I have qualities of the younger brother, too. And I also know I should start focusing vertically, recognizing that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." But how does one DO that, exactly? I see these other people, and wonder, if they are claiming that they want to be closer to God, why aren't they showing more repentance for the crap they do??

    It would be so much easier to forgive people if they actually showed me they were sorry. But then, I guess that would be too easy. I suppose I wouldn't be very Christ-like, since Jesus probably has to deal with that all the time. I guess I just answered my own question. :P

  3. I've gotta stop leaving such long-winded responses... lol!

  4. Yes, I'll admit to being the guy that ticked bizarre. But that's what God seems to be. And as you said it's our only chance. Having been someone like you, someone who wanted to be the best pastor, husband etc. I could, I messed up in a pretty big way. No one to blame but myself. So, yes I'm so glad it's this way. But your question threw me. I guess I'm not really back into settling in God's grace. Wishful thinking, maybe?

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