Saturday, February 15, 2014

Holy Smoke! It's Not Fair.

SCRIPTURE: Proverbs 1:1-3
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: February 14th, 2014
"1The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: 2for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; 3for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair;" (Proverbs 1:1-3)
SYNOPSIS: Kids often cry out "It's Not Fair." Adults too complain about the kind of justice or injustice meted out in this world. The point is, there is a difference between a court of law and a court of justice. This week's article will reflect on this.

At the heart of the human soul is a deep cry for fairness. We hear it from young children. We hear it with teens at high school. We hear it at our workplaces. We even debate and argue over it throughout our adult life. The reality is: Life is often not as fair as we want them to be.

During my college years, I often see ironical cases of how some hardworking friends of mine barely made the grade beyond C. At the same time, there were students who seemed to be playing everyday, who hardly hit their books, who skipped lectures, and who appeared in every way destined to flunk their exams. These students ended up being at the top with a heap of As. Fair or unfair?

Then there is the job hunting period of life. I heard of some dedicated friends with reasonably good results (at least better than mine!) who had sent out hundreds of job application letters without receiving a single reply. Another sent out just a few applications and received job interviews. Fair or unfair?

Some colleagues of mine who did their best in being loyal and faithful to their employers ended up getting fired when business turned bad. People who did not work as hard ended up being promoted. Contracts created by various people ended up benefiting those who had not worked for it at all. Fair or unfair?

With shrewd understanding, the biblical writer Qohelet has written about such "meaninglessnes" of life s long time ago. He writes: "I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless." (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19, NIV2011)

Here is a modern version: "And I hated everything I’d accomplished and accumulated on this earth. I can’t take it with me—no, I have to leave it to whoever comes after me. Whether they’re worthy or worthless—and who’s to tell?—they’ll take over the earthly results of my intense thinking and hard work. Smoke." (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19, MSG)

Smoke Gets in Our Faith?
Eugene Peterson's translation of "meaninglessness" as "smoke" is brilliant. Smoke appears for a while and disappears gradually. It comes and goes. It does not remain. It leaves no traces regardless of the work done to produce it. Even fires after burning up everything will disappear. "Smoke" is what earthly life is about. It comes, smothers throats, blinds eyes, and suffocates people. Where there is smoke, there is fire, they say. Where there is smoke now, there will be none later, I would reply.

Smoke is an excellent visual for meaninglessness. It is something that people see and after a while, it is no more. Is what we do in life a smokescreen that blinds us from the truth? This one question will haunt us, especially those of us who have placed way too much hope in the things, the powers, and the systems of this world. Smoke gets in our faith? Perhaps.

I believe the word "fair" is an unhelpful word. If what Qohelet had written is truth, then our efforts to expect fairness to come from unfair systems in the world would be sadly misplaced. For fairness is not something that we can see every time.

Take one example of a person crossing the street. She obeyed all the rules and walked within the safe boundaries of the road crossing. She was just a regular family person who wanted to get home safe and sound. Obeying the green man signs of the traffic lights, she stepped onto the road like what she used to do for hundreds of times. Within seconds, a car that appeared out of nowhere came speeding toward her. The male driver had no time to stop. The pedestrian had no time to react. The tragic accident left the woman maimed for life. Whatever that happened to the male driver will never bring back the woman's ability to walk. The fair lady had come up on the wrong side of the justice question.

Like the example of the pedestrian, fairness has nothing to do with following and obeying all the rules. One can obey all the laws of this world and still be convicted by some weird circumstance. Human laws that worked in some situation will falter in others. This is just another of the many examples that this world is not fair. It is fallen. It is not a place where justice automatically happens. It is a place that left on its own, injustice reigns supreme.

Only when one comes to accept the presence of injustice and the inadequacies of justice that one will come to understand the importance and meaning of grace. Philip Yancey's question, "What Good is God?" is a remarkable exploration of faith in a fallen world. As he reflects on his worldwide travel, looking at poverty, pain, death, injustice, unfairness, and many tragedies people faced, he is forced to see life as both a comedy as well as a tragedy. He uses the example of one person struggling to recover from her addiction to cocaine. One red-haired woman shares with Yancey about her own addiction to crack.
"Crack isn't for people to feel good, it's for people to feel nothing. Crack is only for people whose wounds are so great that it alone can numb them. When you come down you feel terrible shame and self-hatred, so you go for it again and again." (Philip Yancey, What Good is God? Nashville, TN: Faithwords, 2010, p233)
It is one thing to feel something. It is yet another to feel nothing. When a person is forced to take such a path of nothingness, that person has essentially given up hope in this world. Despair has risen. Hope has fallen. Disappeared. Poof!

While we do not agree with the use of crack in the first place, that does not mean we do not try to understand the reasons behind drug addictions. In fact, drug addictions are more often misunderstood. Christians can be in the forefront of mercy and love. We can be strongly against drugs and addictions, but that does not mean we tone down our our efforts to show grace and understanding. This world may be meaningless, but we are not here to give the world meaning, for every efforts of ours will be like smoke that eventually dissipates. We are also not here to create history for history will make itself. We are here to be witnesses for Christ. I like in particular the reminder of AJ Gordon, co-founder of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Once he said,

“Our task is not to bring all the world to Christ, our task is unquestionably to bring Christ to all the world.” (Adoniram Judson Gordon, 1836–1895)

The task of giving meaning is not ours to give. It is God's to provide. Whether God uses us or others to implement is truly and fully God's task.

Have you been asking yourself about meaning in life? Has something unjust been trapping you in self-pity and anger? Are you in a situation that despite all the right things you are doing, all the wrong results seem to be happening?

You are not alone. The key truth in a fallen world is this. Life is never meant to be fair. Parents will fight a losing battle if they try to come up on the right side of "It's not fair." Life is never fair. Sometimes there is justice. Other times there are none. Power often dictates who gets what kind of justice. The strong will demand the weak submit to their whims and fancies. The rich and the famous will easily run the entire show.

Changing the world is not our duty. Neither is it our responsibility. We need to do our best, but we need to let God handle the rest. For all the work we do is like smoke. Only God can make something out of nothing. Only God can redeem the unredeemed. Only God can forgive the sinner. Only God can grant grace.

Here is the good news. The Word of the Lord is eternal. It will never perish. It will remain forever. This Word of God is offered free of charge to us. For the greatest unfairness and injustice have been meted out on the Son of God, who loved us and gave his life up for our sake. Before we complain about the smoke of injustice in this world, think about the fire of torture and suffering on Jesus Christ at the Cross. Christ's pain is not simply the nails on his hands and feet. Neither is it crown of thorns or the piercing of his body. His pain is the spiritual separation from God the Father. His hurt and despair is that the very people who He died for are the very people who crucified Him.

My friends. Do not bark up the wrong tree trying to seek fairness in everything. We can try. We can argue and go on strikes. We can even get the best lawyers and experts in the constitution to get a fair hearing. Those options are expensive and often not available to the man in the street. Imagine spending a few million dollars to fight off one act of injustice when the same amount of money can be spent helping thousands of people in poverty.
Don't get me wrong. We need the rule of law for countries to function. We need judges to uphold the law of the land. We need lawyers who can argue out the best of multiple perspectives. Despite the best of man's efforts, there will often be times in which injustice appears to reign supreme. Here is the good news. Smoke is not privy only to the injustice and unfairness of the world. It applies to all. In other words, people from all walks of life are exposed to the very same fallacies and flaws of this world. If there is any one reminder, it is this. The world to come will be better, more beautiful, and much more humane. It will be perfect. For it is far better to come under the judgment of a Perfect God, than to wallow under injustice or rejoice under temporal justice of an imperfect world. Oliver Wendell Holmes show us exactly what that means. Man can establish a "court of law." Only God can establish a "court of justice." These two are very different.

THOUGHT: "There is a court of law, young man, not a court of justice." (Oliver Wendell Holmes)


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