Once upon a time there was a golden land of equal opportunity, universal free education and profound egalitarianism. A level playing field ensured that everyone could be fully productive and reap the fair reward for their labours.
(Oh, and nobody got sick so they all remained equal.)
(Also, everyone had the same IQ.)
(Furthermore, the government and leaders were impeccably fair to all.)
(And nobody had social disadvantages stemming from inept parenting.)
(There were no inherited diseases.)
(Accidents never disabled anyone.)
You probably get my drift – “Life isn’t fair. We tell our children that it is, but it’s a terrible thing to do. It’s not only a lie, it’s a cruel lie. Life is not fair, and it never has been, and it’s never going to be.”1 This applies not only in good books and movies but also in real life. Some folks are bigger, stronger, more intelligent, better looking, luckier, and wealthier. Regardless of where you are at in life, there will be somebody who is better off than you according to whatever standard you choose to measure such things by.
Fortunately, in God’s economy the ideals of fairness and justice are based on better foundations than the incomplete measures we generally use2. Jesus describes God’s assessment of how well we have done in both absolute (see John 5:30) and relative terms:
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41–44)
God will certainly hold us each accountable, but it will be in accordance with the gifts, abilities and opportunities we have been given rather than in comparison to what others might achieve. In this sense, God uses relative standards to measure our achievements.
In these days of Facebook and Pinterest comparisons, this is a huge comfort and corrective for those of us who perceive ourselves to be somehow disadvantaged in the popularity and ‘success’ contest. God will judge me, not according to what I achieve in comparison to others, but according to what I do with what He has given me. Will I be a faithful servant to Him or will I slack off and waste His gifts?
Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required (Luke 12:48)
Who would want to stand before God in judgment fumbling for excuses to justify wasting the life He gave? When I consider this it opens my eyes to understand how much I have been blessed with, in contrast to wallowing in self pity as happens when I look at my weaknesses compared to the apparent strengths of others. In fact, even weakness may be given by God for purposes only He knows:
…I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)
What I must keep in mind is that the strength God gives in my weakness could be a ‘just enough’ strength; enough to get through but not so much that I begin to boast in having strength to cope with anything life throws at me.3
1. Quote from The Princess Bride by William Goldman ↩
2. Romans 2:16 and 2 Corinthians 5:10 illustrate this.↩
3. As with the widow of Zarephath; God blessed her with enough to feed herself, her son and Elijah but the provision was only ever just enough and by our standards quite meager (see 1 Kings 17:8-16).↩