I had lunch with a seminary friend yesterday, and at some point in the two hour conversation we got to talking about the general misunderstanding that the Gospel is fair. What I mean is that people assume and expect that our hard work will pay off in apparent results, and that if we are called to do something it will follow that we will succeed (in a way we expect), or that at the very least we should always feel “good” about those choices we make to follow God.
And sometimes, those things actually play out that way. But sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you give someone help who needed it, and they squander what you gave them, and you look like a fool. Sometimes you are called to do something, and it lands you in the middle of total chaos and miles of conflict and human messiness. Sometimes you do what you know is right, and nobody notices, and it didn’t really give you that much internal satisfaction, either.
None of those things should indicate that God isn’t nice, or that you were somehow wrong in your choices. Because the Gospel isn’t fair. It is RIGHT but it isn’t fair. Jesus says to give to those in need. If you do that, you are being faithful. You try to do that with wisdom, and with discernment, but at some point if you are actually doing this regularly, someone will take advantage of you, and you will feel like an idiot. And if you think the Gospel is right but not fair, then you will pick yourself up and say, “Well, misjudged that one” and then keep on giving anyway. If you get called somewhere and it becomes hard (and being called somewhere almost always means it will at some point be hard) and you think the Gospel is right but not fair, then you will find your center in the midst of the chaos and figure out how to listen for how God might be asking you to transform that place and stay put through the storm. And if you spend your life trying to live by the Gospel, trust me, most days nobody will really seem to care one bit. And it may not look like you are getting anywhere at all, because the Gospel is like yeast rising right before your eyes but at a pace so slow you can’t see it. The Gospel is like staring at a blade of grass and waiting to see it grow. But if you trust that the Gospel is “right” and if you believe that crazy mystery that the Word does not return void, then you will plug along simply because you feel called to live like the Gospel has asked you to live.
Grace is incredibly unfair. Unconditional love is mind-bogglingly unfair. The prodigal son squandering his inheritance and getting a party thrown in his honor is unbelievably unfair. Workers out in the field who worked six hours less than you but received the same amount of money is enough to put Americans into a complete rage for its unfairness. But these parables tell us what the Gospel looks like.
Take it or leave it. But don’t complain about unfairness. You’re going to have to look somewhere other than the Gospel if that’s what is most important to you.