From the September/October 2016 issue of Discern Magazine

Is God Fair?

It's a fair question. But even many religious people who think He is can't explain some of the tough questions that cause many to think He isn't.

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You don’t have to live on this planet very long to see unfairness, injustice, oppression and abject evil.

We observe rich people cheating poor people, hear of coaches and priests abusing children, learn about wicked men trafficking runaways.

Too often it seems those guilty of great evil get away with it, while those trying to do the best they can get the short end of the stick. Even more disturbing, this unfairness frequently lingers till death. Why do some of the wicked enjoy life to the end, while some of the innocent die young or in agony—or both?

And then there is the missionary’s dilemma. What about all the people around the world who even today have never understood the gospel of Jesus Christ? Will they all be thrown in the lake of fire? Has God only made salvation available to a tiny minority of all who have ever lived?

How could a just and fair God allow all of this?

Life’s not fair—but why?

To try to understand our world of injustice, let’s rewind to the beginning. God tells us He created a man and a woman and put them in a verdant garden. Life was simple then. God clearly explained the cause-and-effect rules they had to know. He wanted them to enjoy the wonderful world He had freely given them, but they needed to obey Him and avoid the fruit of the one tree that was not good for them (Genesis 2:15-17).

However, soon a slick salesman (the devil appearing as a snake) tried to convince them God was lying. By taking the forbidden fruit, they not only caused the destructive consequences God had warned about, they also effectively rejected God’s beneficial and fair way of life. They chose Satan’s way that produces injustice, oppression and evil. (Read more about all this in our Life, Hope & Truth articles “Adam and Eve and the Two Trees” and “The Tree of Life.”)

The Bible tells us that the world today is “under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). Satan continues to lie and murder and promote self-destructive, sinful lifestyles, then tries to convince us that it is God who is unfair.

Perspective and patience

Life is not fair, but that is of Satan’s doing and our human choosing. Satan has warped the whole system to sometimes temporarily reward the wicked and punish the innocent.

From God’s perspective, cause and effect will prevail. The temporary delays will end. Those who cry out to God in their suffering are told to wait patiently for God’s intervention (Psalm 37:7-9). Justice will be done.

Except for one thing.

God had a reason for creating us, and He does not want to see us all get exactly what we deserve. Justice demands the death penalty for sin—and we have all sinned (Romans 3:23; 6:23). So instead of wiping us all out, God planned another way.

What do we really want: justice or mercy?

We naturally hate unfairness. But our sense of fairness is easily warped. We find it much easier to see injustice and sin in others. Our own sins and injustices we too quickly justify.

But if we could see everything clearly from God’s perspective, would we still be seeking God’s perfect justice? Or would we be begging for mercy?

The greatest injustice and cleaning the slate

When we understand that our sins (our disobedience to God’s perfect laws) have earned us the death penalty, we realize our only choice is to ask for mercy. But how can a perfectly just God forgive sin? His justice requires blood—death—as payment for sin. So no human would receive eternal life.

But “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Jesus Christ was willing to die in our place—to pay the death penalty for you and for me. He did nothing worthy of death. He never sinned. As the Son of God, His life is worth far more than all human lives put together.

God had a reason for creating us, and He does not want to see us all get exactly what we deserve.

When you consider these facts, isn’t Jesus’ death the most unfair punishment ever? Yet He willingly gave Himself to make it possible for us to repent and be forgiven. His sacrifice made His mercy possible.

When we repent of our sins, we commit to turning our life around. We recognize the need to stop sinning and to obey God’s good laws.

The apostle Peter outlined the process: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). God wipes clean the slate listing our sins and gives us the down payment of eternal life as His children!

We can be eternally grateful that in God’s plan “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

But what about the billions who’ve never believed in Christ—and the billions who died never even hearing about our only Savior?

God’s desire

Paul wrote that God our Savior “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

Does that mean only the people born in “Christian” countries? Only the ones whose life experiences made them open to conversion? Only the ones who lived long enough to be called to come to Christ (John 6:44)?

No. When God says “all,” He means all. He is not limited by geography, language barriers or even death itself. In several often-misunderstood passages He shows how everyone who has ever lived will have a full, complete chance for salvation. It’s not a second chance, as some misconstrue it. The Bible describes a second resurrection that is a first chance.

Before looking at these passages about the biblical day of judgment, let’s consider what the Bible means by the word judgment.

What does the Bible mean by judgment?

Did you know the Church today is undergoing God’s judgment? Peter wrote about judgment beginning with us: “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17). This judgment can mean more than sentencing—in this case it refers to the whole Christian life being evaluated by God as we live it. Judgment, as God considers it, can actually be an opportunity for salvation.

Revelation 20:12 talks about a future judgment, after Christ’s 1,000-year reign on the earth (verse 4). Since the resurrection at the beginning of the 1,000 years is called the “first resurrection,” this immense judgment of the “rest of the dead” (verse 5) could be called the second resurrection.

John wrote, “I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things that were written in the books.”

What will this time of judgment be like, especially for those who have never had understanding of the meaning of the books of the Bible they are being judged by? Would not our loving God, who “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” also give them a chance to repent and a period of evaluation as He is giving the Church today?

Looking for the church behind Life, Hope & Truth? See our “Who We Are” page.

How will the day of judgment be more tolerable for Sodom?

We can learn more about this time in the words of Jesus Himself. In several passages He talked about how pagan and wicked people would find it more tolerable during this day of judgment than the people who had rejected the teaching of Jesus Himself. Here is one example:

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.

“And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:21-24).

The people of the evil cities of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom all earned the death penalty, as all human beings have. But Jesus said because they had not had the same chance to repent that the people He preached to had, things would be “more tolerable” for them in the day of judgment.

Unless you think that is a cruel joke from our Savior—the One who loved and died for all people—it cannot mean that they were all just sentenced to hell (what the Bible calls the lake of fire). The implication here, as in Revelation 20, is that people will be brought back to life, allowed to understand the Bible and to repent of their sins and, according to Ezekiel 37, to receive the Holy Spirit:

“Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live” (verses 13-14).

When all is said and done, it will be clear that God is totally fair and just, and even more important for all of us, His mercy endures forever!

Read more about this little-understood teaching of the Bible in our article “Are Most People Eternally Lost?

About the Author

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett is editorial content manager for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in the Dallas, Texas, area. He coordinates the Life, Hope & Truth website, Discern magazine, the Daily Bible Verse Blog and the Life, Hope & Truth Weekly Newsletter (including World Watch Weekly). He is also part of the Personal Correspondence team of ministers who have the privilege of answering questions sent to Life, Hope & Truth.

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