God is perfectly just, but he isn’t “fair”

February 25, 2014
I was blessed to finally replace this piece of junk. But even this piece of junk had a been a great blessing from God!

I was blessed to finally replace this piece of junk. But even this piece of junk had a been a great blessing from God!

In several recent posts, including this one and that one, I’ve defended the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and providence against attempts by many United Methodists (if not mainline Protestants in general) to water them down. As a Wesleyan Christian, I naturally disagree with Calvinistic determinism, which says that even one’s decision to accept or reject God’s gift of salvation is determined by God.

Nevertheless, we can still believe that God is in control and that human beings have free will, as I’ve argued.

This morning, at least a couple of fellow clergy linked approvingly to this blog post from a former missionary named Scott Dannemiller. He writes:

For those of you who don’t know, I make money by teaching leadership skills and helping people learn to get along in corporate America. My wife says it’s all a clever disguise so I can get up in front of large groups and tell stories.

I plead the fifth.

I answered my buddy’s question with,

“Definitely feeling blessed. Last year was the best year yet for my business. And it looks like this year will be just as busy.”

The words rolled off my tongue without a second thought. Like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or placing my usual lunch order at McDonald’s.

But it was a lie.

He goes on to say that while he has enjoyed recent financial success, he’s mistaken to call this success a blessing from God.

First, when I say that my material fortune is the result of God’s blessing, it reduces The Almighty to some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers…

Second, and more importantly, calling myself blessed because of material good fortune is just plain wrong. For starters, it is offensive to the hundreds of millions of Christians in the world who live on less than $10 per day. You read that right.  Hundreds of millions who receive a single-digit dollar “blessing” per day…

The problem?  Nowhere in scripture are we promised worldly ease in return for our pledge of faith. In fact, the most devout saints from the Bible usually died penniless, receiving a one-way ticket to prison or death by torture.

I agree that the Bible doesn’t promise a financial return on the investment of our faith (there is a reward in heaven), but it does teach us that God blesses us materially. I wrote the following in response to a clergy friend who posted the link:

I disagree with this blogger. Blessings certainly include material things like revenue from one’s business, or automobiles, or houses. And it’s perfectly OK to thank God for them. The whole system of tithing in the OT was a way of acknowledging that God had blessed the recipient with this harvest. Our Lord teaches us to ask God for material blessings in the model prayer he gave us. Our daily bread comes from God. Granted, most of us don’t act like it comes from God, but that’s our problem.

What’s at stake, theologically, in the question is God’s sovereignty and providence—concepts to which many Methodists are strangely allergic (given that Wesley himself certainly wasn’t!). What kind of God do we believe in? A deistic one? A very distant god who mostly lets events in our world run their course?

When I was driving my 18 year old Honda, for instance, which was being held together with duct tape and chewing gum, I prayed that we could have the money to replace it. Did God answer my prayer when he enabled me, finally, to buy a much newer used Honda? Am I allowed to call my much newer Honda a blessing. Because it certainly feels like one to me! And I do thank God for it!

I could say, “It’s not fair that I can afford this car while so many poor people in the world can’t.” Well, God isn’t “fair,” if by fair you mean that God offers an equal distribution of material blessings in the world. But we ought to trust that God knows what he’s doing.

If the blogger were merely saying that we’re not responsible stewards with the blessings God gives us, I would certainly agree! But that’s a separate question.

Besides, you haven’t escaped the question of fairness once you remove financial blessings from the equation. Are children a blessing from God? Of course they are. But there are married couples who are unable to have children. Is that fair? Is it fair that we’re more “blessed” (in this regard) than the couples who can’t have children? Does this disparity of blessings mean that we should scrap the whole idea that God has given us our children as gifts (and enormous responsibilities to go with them)? 

Or are we back to believing that God has nothing to do with these blessings as well—that it’s just a roll of the dice whether or not we have kids. God set up the system of human reproduction before backing away and letting events run their course.

The blogger’s postscript—that he’s learned to say “I’m grateful” instead of “I’m blessed”—only begs the question. To whom is he grateful if not to God? Is he grateful to Lady Luck instead?

2 Responses to “God is perfectly just, but he isn’t “fair””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, I totally agree with what you are saying. I might note, conversely, that our “curses” are also attributable to God, in my opinion. “Shall we receive good from God, and not evil?”, Job asks. “Who make the blind?!”, God remonstrates to Moses. I don’t know if it is quite right to call “curses” blessings, but they may paradoxically be so, considering God’s motives in inflicting them–whether to correct our errant behavior, or give us tests to pass for our more ultimate heavenly reward. Consequently, as Paul says, “I have learned that in whatever state I am, therewith to be content.”

    • brentwhite Says:

      Very well said, Tom. The idea expressed in the blog post to which I pointed, however, is widespread among Christians, unfortunately.

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