When I was a child, I was like most kids—I thought life was always supposed to be fair. As I grew older, I began to realize that life is not always fair. I began to understand why sometimes adults would say things like “grow up, get over it, move on, be tough, quit whining, or that’s life.” A few years ago, I read the story in Numbers 7:1–9 about Moses giving carts and oxen to the Levites. I told our kids that night at dinner, “Now, kids, here’s a very important story in the Bible. Moses gave two wagons to the sons of Gershon and four wagons to the sons of Merari. But unto the sons of Kohath he gave none! So quit trying to count your sister’s Pringles!”
In the past ten years living in Cambodia, I have come face to face with a whole different kind of injustice. This isn’t about whose turn it is to sit in the front seat. These are situations that are “big time” unfair. Take the legal system, for example. Whoever has the most money and the best connections usually wins the case. Land grabbing is rampant. It is common knowledge that the rich and powerful can get away with murder (figuratively and sometimes literally). There is injustice in the school system too. Rich kids can skip classes regularly and still pass, while good students fail simply because they did not give the teacher some money on the side. There is also injustice in the hospitals. I have heard firsthand accounts of doctors and nurses ignoring certain patients (causing them to die) because their relatives didn’t place some money into their hands upon admittance. There is even injustice in the streets. A poor, single mother on our street got evicted from her very small shack because local officials said she was taking too much space on the street. As soon as her shack was razed, another person opened an auto repair shop in the exact same spot and began using ten times as much space as that woman ever did. He was left alone. Stories like this never end.
We need to have better advice than “Get over it!” What is a compassionate and biblical response to situations characterized by injustice and inequity? How are we to lead a person to navigate these difficult waters? How can we counsel people so that they do not get shipwrecked by anger, despair, and bitterness?
I don’t have the answers for each of these individual issues. I do believe however, that the only way to maintain one’s joy in the face of such injustice is to frame these issues in spiritual terms. Here are three biblical truths that we must teach people, both in public preaching and in private counseling.
1. We Need to Teach People about God’s Sovereignty
If one has a firm confidence in the sovereignty of God, that will go a long way towards soothing an unjust situation. I have taught many times on the life of Joseph, which so beautifully shows that injustice can be used of God for a larger purpose. Also, Cambodians are usually big believers in karma. That whole concept is a very convenient way to dismiss all bad things that happen to a person as simply something that they must have deserved for some past action. I always point out that Joseph’s troubles and trials were not of his own doing, but rather a part of God’s plan. As we see in John 9:1–3, the blind man’s malady was not a result of any person’s misbehavior, but rather that the works of God might be made manifest.
Besides knowing that God is sovereign and that unjust circumstances are not necessarily punishment for some deed, it is also imperative that people be assured that God can turn around any situation in an instant (see Psalm 75:6–7).
One other area of God’s sovereignty that must be shared with people constantly is the fact that ultimately God will judge and reward fairly. The evildoer may think he is getting away with something, but it is only temporary. The “little people” may think they are getting trampled under foot and no one knows or cares, but God will make all things right in the end.
2. We Need to Teach People about Faith
This, of course, relates closely to the previous point, but we need to strengthen people’s faith by strong doctrinal preaching. The attributes of God cannot be mentioned too often. Also, Bible reading must be encouraged in all Christians. Neither a new convert nor a seasoned Christian can ever read the Bible too much. It is the preaching of the Word of God and the personal reading, studying, meditating, and memorizing of God’s Word that will build a person’s faith (Romans 10:17).
Many Bible characters faced unfair situations in their lives. They either survived and thrived, or they stumbled and fell depending on the strength of their faith in God. The only thing that will get a person through some situations is the fact that he trusts God implicitly.
3. We Need to Teach People about Forgiveness
There are many, many times when a situation does not work out the way that we hope. In those cases, a person must be able to unilaterally forgive in order to guard his heart against bitterness (Ephesians 4:31–32). We need to teach people to follow Christ’s example and forgive the wrongs of others even when they have not sought forgiveness. Bitterness is a common result of the miscarriage of justice, but we must teach people that bitterness is a cancer that hurts the bitter person most. We must teach them that there is joy, healing, and strength in forgiveness.
Rarely do we have control over the externals of our lives, but we may navigate dangerous waters safely when we are right on the inside.