That’s Not Fair!

8 12 2008

Lately, around our church, there have been some “discussions” about the doctrine of election.  Those who have the hardest time with the biblical teaching of the doctrine (that God sovereignly and unconditionally chooses those to whom He will grant salvation) seem to fall back on the argument of “but that’s not fair!”

The argument is a relatively simple one: if God chooses some to be saved and passes over others, that is not fair to those who have been passed over.  Those who object on this grounds of “fairness” believe that God should be an equal opportunity provider (or savior) and make salvation open to everyone, not just give it to a select few.

There are several problems, biblically, with this argument.  Today, I just want to focus on one.  Let’s talk about God and “fairness.”  We’ll start our conversation with a story.

The Life of a Prophet

Along time ago, there was a godly man named Ezekiel.  Ezekiel was an Israelite living in exile in the land of Babylon.  While there, God called him into service as a prophet.

Sounds like a good gig, right? Get to have an intimate relationship with God, He lets you in on all of the details of His plan, and you get to be His mouth piece to speak to His people.  If you think Ezekiel had it good, then you haven’t read the book.

First, God tells Ezekiel that He’s going to make him mute:

And I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ He who will hear, let him hear; and he who will refuse to hear, let him refuse, for they are a rebellious house (Ezekiel 3:26-27).

God tells Ezekiel that the only time he can talk is when God gives him a prophecy to share with the people.

Can you imagine what that must have been like for Ezekiel in his daily life?  No “I love you” to the wife.  No “You gave me the wrong change” at the market.  No “Hey, you guys catch the chariot races?” to the fellas. No personal, verbal communication whatsoever! And this didn’t just last a week.  It didn’t change for Ezekiel until years later (see Ezekiel 24:27). How unfair!

But wait, there’s more!

In chapter 4, God tells Ezekiel to put on a little play for the exiled people of Israel.  God tells him to recreate His judgment against both the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah by suffering a “personal siege” for them.  What does this look like?  It has several staggering components, but let me just run down a few for you:

  • Ezekiel needs to bind himself and lay upon his left side for 390 days! (Yes, for more than a year!)  He does this to present a visual of God’s judgment upon the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
  • Then, God tells him to do it again, however this time Ezekiel must lay on his right side and do so for 40 days.  This pictures the judgment upon the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
  • Also, during this time he needs to eat the same putrid food and water those in a siege would eat and drink.  This includes God given orders to cook his food over on an open fire fueled by human feces!  Here Ezekiel graciously objects and God allows him to cook his food instead with heat provided by cow dung (how appetizing!).

Could you imagine that being your regular practice for over a year?!  And Ezekiel is doing it simply because God told him too.

However, here’s the clincher for me.  Here’s where I’d be tempted to say, “Go find somebody else, God!” Right before God lifts the ban on Ezekiel’s personal conversation ability, God tells His prophet:

“Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.” So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded (Ezekiel 24:16-18).

Did you catch that?! God takes the life of Ezekiel’s wife!  The text describes her as “the delight of your eyes” not “the old nag you can’t stand to be around anymore!” But God takes her life and tells Ezekiel “you can’t shed a tear; don’t mourn for you wife!”

Wow.

What did Ezekiel do to deserve that kind of treatment?  Is there somewhere Scripture that records for us that Ezekiel was really a wicked prophet, a man on the take, like Balaam- just in it for the money?  Was Ezekiel a lazy louse who’d been flippant with his God given call?  Nope.  We find no such record.  Ezekiel was a godly man who faithfully did exactly what the Lord told him.

“Well,” you might say, “to treat poor Ezekiel like that, well, that just isn’t fair!”

And, in a sense, you’re right.  It’s not.  It’s not what we’d expect at all.

A God of Fairness?

But, here’s the important point: God is not a God of fairness… and I’m glad He’s not.

Take a moment and think about this.  If you want a God of “fairness,” would you then be able to have the Cross?

Let’s ask ourselves a few “fairness related” Cross questions:

  • How fair was it for the Eternal Son of Glory to step down from His throne and put on my weak, feeble, broken humanity to redeem me from the mess I’d created?
  • How fair was it for Him to have to endure hunger and fatigue and slander and ridicule so that you’d be spared from the condemnation you deserved?
  • How fair was it for God to crucify His Holy and Perfect Son, to turn His back upon Him and make Him a curse for the likes of ingrates like us?

It wasn’t fair at all, was it?

Here’s an important point about our understanding of “fairness” and God: fairness is not what God is concerned about.  We’re too concerned about the wrong thing.

Whether it is the Cross or Ezekiel’s wife or the doctrine of election, it is all grounded in the One thing that God is very concerned about, and it isn’t fairness; it’s His glory.

You see, God’s universe doesn’t operate on the principle of fairness, it operates on the principle of worthiness.  And here is the truth we need to come eye-ball to eye-ball with: there is only One worthy of all things being pointed at Him and working for the praise of His great name.  God alone is the center of all things, the only Being worthy of everything working out for Him.  That’s the true “fairness” principle of Scripture (see Romans 9:19-21).

When we struggle with such things as the doctrine of election, we struggle because we are missing the true purpose of all things. It is not about us, fair or unfair.  It is all about Him.

The Reformers, those great proponents of the biblical doctrine of election, had it right after all: Soli Deo Gloria!

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3 responses

8 12 2008
Frank Emrich

Ryan, I have always disliked the “fairness” argument and I have often said that if God were fair none of us would be saved. And I also agree “its all about Him.” However, that does not mean that we should not be gloriously happy and humbled at the same time by the fact that God chose us! If we truly understand our depravity we will be constantly amazed that we are new creations in Christ, and rather than argue over who gets chosen or not, we will forever wonder that He chose me! (us). In one sense then it is about us isn’t it? John 3:16 tells me that he loves me. Eph. 1 says He has chosen me. 1 John reminds me to stop and see how great a love the Father has bestowed upon me that I should be called a child of God! Oh I know that its God who has done all of that, and that we love Him because He first loved us, but still HE LOVES ME! Incredible! I pray that I never lose the wonder of that. And I truly wish that people would stop debating election and start rejoicing in it every day, after all, we will throughout eternity! Somehow I don’t think God revealed this great truth to us so we can split churches over it, or choose up sides over it.

8 12 2008
Stephanie

Well put. I appreciate your well studied article, and I agree that God does not need to give account to us concerning fairness. Who are we to determine what is fair anyway?
Here’s my question: God is not willing that any should perish, and salvation is available to anyone who will believe and receive it. Therefore, God does not elect that any should go to hell, right? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe that he does.
We as believers are still required to share the gospel with everyone and not decide for ourselves that the people we are witnessing to are elect or not.

8 12 2008
Ryan

Good questions, Stephanie; they aim right at some of the difficulties of this doctrine, namely the basis of condemnation and the role of God’s choice in it.
Salvation is open to all people and we are commanded to share the gospel with any and all we meet (Matt. 28:19; Acts 17:30; 2 Cor. 5:19-20). However, who will respond to this message?
Since the fall of Adam, we have all been spiritually dead in our sins and trespasses and live in hostility to God (John 3:19; Romans 3:11; Eph. 2:1-3). In order for us to respond to God’s gracious offer of salvation, God must give us the ability- he must open our eyes so that we can see, must unstop our ears so that we can hear; in other words, he must make us alive (John 1:13; 3:3; 6:44; Acts 16:14; 2 Cor. 4:6; Eph. 2:4-5). But to whom does He do this? He does this to those whom he has chosen, from eternity past, to make his own (John 10:25-29; Acts 13:48; Romans 8:29-30; Eph 1:4).
But what of those he hasn’t chosen? What of those he doesn’t “make alive” and “grant repentance” (Col. 2:13; 2 Tim. 2:25)? Those are condemned, but not simply because God didn’t choose to save them; they are condemned because they are sinners (Psalm 1:4-5; Romans 1:18; Eph. 5:5-6).
Therefore, you can look at it this way: we are condemned, justly, for our rebellion (Gen. 2:16-17), but we are saved, mercifully, by God’s sovereign grace (Titus 3:5).
As to then our part in this as evangelists and witnesses, we must be faithful to proclaim the message. How will the sheep hear and respond if the message is not being proclaimed (John 10:27; Romans 10:14)? You and I have no idea who is among God’s elect and who isn’t- so, we cast the seed broad and wide, knowing that God is able to use that seed to bring people to himself.
Hope this helps.

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