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"This was not God’s plan,” I said as I held the grieving hands of the distraught mother. She stared numbly through red eyes, soaked with tears, at the two coffins before her. Her two teenage children, a son and a daughter, had been killed in a car accident four days before. As the pastor conducting the funeral service, I was keenly aware that this same woman had lost her husband to cancer a few years before.

The phone call informing me of the deadly crash shook our church family, especially the other teens who knew these two youth. Trite words and simplistic explanations don’t comfort during times like this. After hearing about such tragedies, many people ask—no, shout, not ask—“Why did this happen?” “It isn’t fair!”

How do you cope when life is unfair? What are the options when fate strikes, when car accidents happen for no reason, or when we come down with a dreaded disease? Shock and denial are often our first responses to terrible events.

Avoiding pain

A broken bone or other physical trauma is often followed by a short period of numbness to the body. This response serves an appropriate temporary purpose. But if we continue to stay out of touch with our pain, we won’t deal with our injury or disease. Broken arms would never be set. Flesh wounds would become infected. Disease would cripple or kill us. Pain tells us there is a problem.

It’s similar with emotional jolts. People who have been struck by horrible events often experience emotional numbness. Many of us have experienced shocking news and said, “I can’t believe this happened! It just can’t be true!” That’s normal. What is not so healthy is to remain in this state of disbelief and continue numbing the pain.

Avoiding the truth of an unfair event—childhood abuse or being told by the doctor about a serious illness— leads some people to use alcohol, illicit drugs, food, or sex to numb their feelings, hoping the experience will go away. Of course, it doesn’t go away. Numbing the feelings is like garbage sitting in your hall closet: it soon makes your whole house stink. Long-term denial always creates more problems.

Gaining understanding

One thing we need is a good perspective. The word unfair suggests a wrong that doesn’t make sense. There is confusion and turmoil in the heart. The ugly thing that happened has no easy answer. So how can we find a way to wrap our minds and hearts around events that are messy? Where can we turn for understanding, for comfort, and for hope? The Bible provides us with deep, clear answers. It has been a source of comfort for many who struggle to make sense of things when life is unfair.

But you may say, “I don’t want to look at the Bible. That’s a Book about God, and I’m not interested in reading about God, let alone praying to Him. After all, if God is all powerful, He could have intervened to prevent this tragedy from happening, and He didn’t. Therefore, this God must be uncaring, maybe even sadistic.”

Before you press the Delete button on God, consider that your understanding of what is happening might be limited. It’s possible you are making assumptions about God based on what you know, but what you know may be only a small part, or worse, might even be distorted information.

When life is unfair, it can impact how we see things. The apostle Paul wrote that “now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror. . . . Now I know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:12). This is especially true when we go through extremely difficult times. Our vision tends to become narrow. Our focus can get fuzzy. We may lose sight of the big picture and see only a small portion of what’s around us. Things become centered on ourselves and our pain.

Looking through binoculars

Seeing life’s difficulties in clear perspective is like having a good pair of binoculars. Consider the two numbers that identify types of binoculars. The first tells you the magnification power and the second tells you the diameter of the front lenses. So, if the numbers are 7 x 35, the first number means an object will appear seven times closer than it would with your unassisted eye.

The Bible has magnification power. Like the first number in rating binoculars, the Word of God moves you closer to truth. It brings distant concepts up close. What appears as a hazy figure far away suddenly becomes a Person you know. This is especially true when we consider God’s character. Is the Lord really sadistic, distant, uncaring, and lacking kindness?

When you zoom in on the Bible’s stories about Jesus, you see a compassionate Savior who grieves with those suffering loss, who tenderly touches the abused, and who releases people trapped in bondage and pain. Verses of Scripture open up a more accurate picture of God to our minds.

When Moses asked God to reveal His glory to him, the Bible says that God passed before Moses and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6, 7, NKJV).* This view of God is not what people often see when they are experiencing the feeling that life is unfair.

The second number on a pair of binoculars determines how much light they can gather. A higher number means a larger diameter of the lenses farthest away from your eyes, which lets in more light. And more light means a brighter view, especially in low-light conditions.

Tragedies can narrow our vision. They have a way of making things dimmer and more distant. When life feels unfair, when unthinkable evil happens, it’s like having the lights turned low. Darkness seems to creep into our minds. Confusion muddles our thinking. The Word of God brings a larger diameter lens to our vision. It increases the lens size of our spiritual eyes by letting in more light, allowing us to see truth more clearly.

We all have limited spiritual vision. In the darkness of this world, it’s difficult to see truth clearly. This is why we need the Bible, the Word of God. It serves as a type of powerful binoculars so that the things that are distant and confusing become clearer. The Bible lets in more light and increases our understanding.

Another way of thinking about the narrow vision we sometimes have when life is unfair is to compare it to someone looking through a pair of binoculars backwards. Flipping them around, they can serve as a simple microscope, magnifying small objects. But holding them backwards would make the binoculars useless in walking down a pathway. People wrestling with unfair events in their lives often are looking at a small piece of life, as if they were looking through binoculars backwards. Their field of view is extremely limited.

A wider view

The Bible gives us perspective. It opens before us a wider view of our world. It shows us that a great battle is taking place between good and evil. We learn about the devil who tries to distort our picture of God and claims that He’s unfair, irrational, and unjust. Yet, this fallen angel tempts us to do wrong and then points an accusing finger at us. Satan delights in mixing up our understanding of truth.

In the Bible, we see Jesus stepping into our broken world to bring light and love. He did not walk around condemning people and sending hurricanes to randomly destroy innocent people. He quieted storms and healed diseased bodies. Jesus explained that, even though this world is the temporary domain of Satan, He, Jesus, will come back soon and put an end to all injustices.

Someday God will make all things right. Pain and death were never meant to be a part of His plan. Grieving mothers were not in the original design for our earth. A day is coming when you will be free to ask God any question you like, and He will explain every unjust act and why He allowed it to happen.

When all questions about innocent victims have been settled, when all injustices and unfair events have been reviewed, then the entire universe will confess, “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages” (Revelation 15:3; italics added).

So, when you ask, “Why did this happen?” or wonder, “Is God being fair?” you can know, from the perspective of the Bible, that He is intensely interested in having these questions answered. No matter how unfair life may seem, you can know that a loving God will take all that is unjust and make it right.

That’s His plan.

* Scriptures quoted from NKJV are from The New King James Version, copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.

When Life Is Unfair

by Curtis Rittenour
From the November 2013 Signs