Is life fair? Should it be?

Last holiday Monday Miho and I were just about ready to go for a hike up Sulphur, or at least 2/3 of the way.  A guy my age, my size, needs to be a bit careful on a 30 degree afternoon.   But just as we were mentally geared-up to leave the house, an interview with Christine Sinclair (Canadian/International soccer star) was shown on our TV screen, along with the promise that a big game between Canada and the U.S. was moments away.  So we stayed, postponed our hike and watched the game – as it turned out, a classic game!

It seems like a long time ago now but you will recall how Canada lost that game to the U.S. and how some claimed our national Team was robbed by that questionable call near the end of the game, regulation time. With under 11 minutes to play, and with Canada having scored the go-ahead goal, the Norwegian referee made an unusual and rarely-seen call. In her eyes, the Canadian goalie had held onto the ball for too long and she called it, necessitating a free kick for the Americans, which led to a call of a Canadian defender touching the ball with her forearm, which led to a penalty kick and goal for team USA, which tied the game, led it into overtime, where the Americans scored and won.

Immediately after the game, Canadian players and coaches were bemoaning the strange call made by the referee, bemoaning the loss and the lost chance to earn at least a silver medal, maybe even a gold.   “It’s just not fair”, said one Canadian player to the cameras. “We should have one that game, but the ref really screwed up.  It’s not fair.”

I believe it was during seminary that a fellow theology student, an Anglican student, in the midst of some heated inter-student discussion, first introduced me to the concept of unfairness.  His question to me:  “Why would you expect life to be fair?” Yet I still find myself becoming indignant, upset by some of life’s unfairnesses and inconsistencies.  You’d think I’d have better grasped the realities of existence by now!

Life is often unfair but we expect otherwise, don’t we?  More important to us than a soccer team losing a big game are our personal, sometimes extremely painful encounters with life’s unfairness.  We may go through the pain of a broken marriage, expecting “the universe” will give us a break for a while.  But then we’re shocked, angered that the “break” never comes and instead we lose a job or a loved one dies.  We may be diagnosed with diabetes and expect, because there should be some fairness to this life, that that’s all we’ll have to manage.  Yet the next diagnosis comes, liver damage, and then it’s discovered there’s a heart problem.  It’s as if the universe ought to balance itself out for the sake of justice, fairness, because we’re good people; or that God ought to notice our suffering, step in and prevent further calamities, at least for a while.  The word “karma”, a very serious tenet of some Eastern traditions, is bandied about offhandedly by some in an attempt to either alleviate our discomfort with life’s unfairness or to in essence push the categories of a balanced universe into our expectations.

Another friend and colleague said to me once:  “Life is unfair, but life is good.  Deal with it.”   I wonder if this might be a better, healthier attitude to adopt in the face of the trials we face. In the grand scheme of things, the universe or God doesn’t owe us fairness.  Things may never balance out in our lives.  But in the grand scheme of things, God does offer us a love which is undying, grace which is unfathomable, hope which gets us through the disappointing, unfair realities of life. What did Jesus say once:  “If any want to become my followers let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”   No fairness there, is there?  Yet he also promised, “In my Father’s house are many mansions…If I go there to prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, you may be also.”

And what about Paul, the great apostle and missionary, what was his reward for a life of discipleship?   “… with countless floggings, and often near death.  Five times I have received forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods.  Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a day and night I was adrift at sea…” (2 Cor. 11:23 …).  Fairness had nothing to do with faithfulness.  So much so that the same Paul, eventually executed by the Romans, wrote these words:  “What then are we to say about these things?  If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?  … Who will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Rom. 8:31…)

My friends, is life fair? Rarely. But is life good? Perhaps the extent to which we allow the love of God to fill us helps in our answering the question.  Are we people of faith?  Faith in what?  How far does an eternal perspective reach into our present lives, enabling us to better handle the inconsistencies and unfairnesses of life, to weather the storms of uncertainty and life’s mystery?  Is it perhaps true to say that if we live life expecting things to balance out, expecting “the universe” (whatever that notion actually is?) to demonstrate fairness, we may find ourselves living in perpetual disappointment?  On the other hand, if we live life with full awareness that things won’t always work out, that God owes us nothing, that “the universe” may not be as concerned with our particular lot as we may imagine, and that mystery, not logic, may be the dominant reality of life’s essence, might not the promises of grace, mercy, compassion, and love, perhaps even eternity, from the One we understand as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer be enough to guide us through, indeed, more than enough?

From the category of the far too personal (I’ll do it anyway), as a 48-year-old man struggling with a severe weight problem he never ever dreamed he’d have, I am constantly aware of life’s uncertainty, as well as its fragility! Is life unfair? Well, I must take responsibility for my current state, although my “genes” would suggest there’s something “big” in the Crawford/Milton physiology.  Nonetheless, I strive to focus each day on the mantra that “life is good, very good”, not because life is fair but because I am of the Creator, who is also my Redeemer and Sustainer. That’s enough!  That’s all I need.  Thanks be to God!

One last note – congrats to both our Canadian Women’s Soccer Team – BRONZE  and our neighboring U.S. Women’s Soccer Team – GOLD.

Lord of nature’s splendour, of Grizzly sightings and wolf-pup encounters, God of mystery and peace, of grace that knows no bounds, fill us, we pray, with your incomprehensible love.  May it lift us, may it call us into service, may it become the focus of our hopes and dreams, the answer to life’s unfairness and confusion.  Amen.


Rev. Dave Crawford is the minister at one of the Banff churches, Rundle Memorial United. Learn more about our current activities, our Thrift Shop, and how to get married in Banff.