We have an innate sense of fairness. One of the thoughts even the youngest of children are able to verbalize is: “That’s not fair!” What we usually mean is: “That isn’t what I wanted to happen—that isn’t good for me.”
In our mind, life is supposed to be good and comfortable— we get what we want— we don’t have to work too hard—most everybody likes us and treats us well—we don’t get too sick, too often—and we live comfortably to a ripe old age (with great health).
I have been dealing with the question of fairness in my own life. My brother, Ted, died recently of pancreatic cancer. He was our baby brother—only 61 years old—and my sister and I kept saying over and over again, “It’s not fair!” Ted always took care of himself—ate well and exercised regularly—and yet out of nowhere, he got a deadly disease. Life just doesn’t seem fair sometimes.
Life is not fair! Joseph certainly must have felt that way. Do you remember the Biblical story of Joseph, son of Jacob? If you haven’t read it in a while I would encourage you to do so. It’s a great story (Genesis 37-50), and it has much to teach us about fairness.
The first part of Joseph’s life seemed to be charmed. He was his father’s favorite and wore his coat of many colors with great pride (a gift from his father). He also had an amazing gift. God spoke to him through dreams. In one of those dreams, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars bowed down before Joseph. His eleven brothers caught the metaphor and were furious with him. His charmed life was
over. They threw him in a pit then sold him into slavery and told their father that Joseph had been killed by wild animals.
Things went from bad to worse for Joseph. He was the slave to one of Pharaoh’s officials but because he refused to sleep with his master’s wife he was falsely accused and thrown into prison. There he befriended two of Pharaoh’s servants who promised to help him if they ever got out of prison, but Joseph was forgotten and languished in jail for several years.
Joseph had every right to be angry and to cry out to God, “This isn’t fair!” He had done nothing wrong (except for being an obnoxious brother), and yet he had been sold into slavery by his own family, falsely accused of something he didn’t do, thrown into jail, and forgotten. Joseph had every right to think of himself as a victim. But he didn’t. Joseph never thought of himself as a victim.
Victimization is a common theme in our society. We insist that we were deeply hurt by our families, our supervisors, and our culture. We think: “I deserve better than I got.” And maybe that’s true. But it really doesn’t matter what we deserve. What matters is how we respond to the difficult things life has brought our way. We can settle into a deep anger or give in to self pity, which will suck away the vitality of our lives. Or we can choose to look for the ways in which God is molding our lives even through injustice.
Joseph chose the later course. Through his gift of interpreting dreams he rises to a position of authority in the powerful nation of Egypt—second in command to Pharaoh. He is able through that position to save a great many people from starvation, including his own family who come to Egypt begging for food. Joseph is able to forgive his brothers and says to them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). Instead of being angry and bitter and seeking revenge, Joseph was able to see God working good through all that happened to him.
God cares a lot more about our character than our accomplishments. When he was young, Joseph had great dreams but little humility. After he had suffered and was finally let out of jail, he was a different man. That’s because he believed God could use even evil for good.
We always have a choice: allow ourselves to become victims or allow God to use even injustice to remake us into His image.
Grace and Peace