Life is Fair
My brother-in-law passed away 12 days ago while on a ship cruising off the Coast of Alaska. His passing from a heart attack was tragic, sudden, and very much unexpected. We miss him incredibly; he was such a good husband, father, and all around guy. He and I share a birth year – he was far too young to leave us at 60, with so many retirement years and experiences waiting just ahead.
My gathered family and friends spent a good portion of the weekend offering condolences to his wife, son, and sister. Of course, we laughed whenever someone would recount an amusing or heartwarming story of their personal experience with him. People like to share fond memories about a good person.
Though our family believes there is life waiting for us after our mortal tenure ends, his funeral was solemn and sad. Throughout the Mass service, I could not help but experience a great wave of compassion for my sister, while concurrently thinking about the potential impact my own sudden passing might have. I know that the loss of my spouse would be devastating for me, and I do not believe I was the only person present to experience these thoughts.
Rather, I am confident that many of my brother-in-law’s loved ones felt that his tragic passing is best termed “unfair”, as in: “Why does it seem that bad things always happen to good people?” Of course I have had my share of “Why me, God?” moments, those occasions when I lament because life did not go exactly according to my plan.
I suspect you have, too. I imagine there have even been those who choose to walk away from God in anger over the perceived unfairness of life. You may know a few. I hope you would join me daily in prayer and evangelizing activity for their return to Him and His guiding providence.
Christians are people of hope. We do not require scientific proof that there is a life beyond our present one; we simply and firmly believe. And there is a tremendous sense of peace in embracing that hope, a peace that permits us to accept God’s will.
This same hope reminds us that life is fair.
Each of us share humanity, but otherwise experience life in contrasting ways. Some have been graced with intelligence, skills and talents, wealth and health. Some have conventional good looks and seem to fall into every good opportunity they meet. Living in a manner that allows them to enjoy life to the fullest, they epitomize the saying, the world is my oyster.
Still others are born destitute, stricken with debilitating illness, or unable to process information and learn. Some have parents who are addicted to drugs and incapable of effectual parenting. Some originate from the poorest corners of the world, where they may be ostracized for sharing a less favorable skin color or faith expression. Some spend their lives in wheelchairs; others, unjustly, in jails. Some are aging and incredibly lonely; others are unable to manage utility and housing bills. Some find life partners who batter and hurt. Some remain the perpetual victims of one who resorts to tyranny or devious extremes to take away any of their dignity or self-possession. All of these collectively have reason to view the world as unfriendly and devoid of hope.
In a scientific world, it may seem appropriate that the strong dominate and control the weak. It is defined as the natural order of things. But in the Christian world, the poor and weak will inherit the Earth. Wait – that’s not fair–
No, life is fair.
God has given each individual person a unique set of circumstance and challenges and opportunities called life. We are designed, one by one, by a loving Creator who gives to each these differing skills and abilities and nuanced insights and proclivities.
He graces humanity with varying access to wealth and possessions, freedoms and privileges, or health and long life. In some cases, prosperity is replaced by suffering, disease, hardship, sadness, struggle, handicap, disappointment, and lack of opportunity – which do not appear to be gifts at all. It would be fairer if everybody had the exact same set of opportunities and factors at birth. What exactly is God thinking?
We exist in a world with instant access to shared information. We know stories of those who begin life struggling, and who overcome their substantial obstacles to gain worldly acceptance and reward. We love those stories, and they make wonderful movies! We also know stories of those born into prosperity and plenty, whose lives fall apart before our eyes. It is easier to judge them, because they had it all, and failed to capitalize upon their good fortune. Come to think of it, because of the flaws that become exposed over time, they make good movies as well.
The truth is, we are less likely to pay attention to the more prevalent and persistent stories: those born with struggle who continue to find struggle. Consciously acknowledging them makes us uncomfortable. You have to wonder, just how can these things happen with a loving God at the helm? Why did the family down the street have a child with Down’s syndrome? How can kind people get cancer, or generous people die young? Why are some children born into abject poverty in a “third world country”, while others that are born into the greatest nation in history can never experience sustained happiness because of mental illness? How can any of that possibly be fair? What exactly is God thinking?
God expects each one of us to become the best person each of us can be. It is that simple. With death serving as the great equalizer, we believe that each of us will independently stand before Him in judgment – and we will surely be asked to explain how we used the gifts and opportunities He gifted to us individually. In this way, life is fair.
It is only fair that He expects all of His children to demonstrate a commensurate level of expressed love and care for our neighbor, proportionate to the gifts, opportunities, and graces we are given in life. In either extreme, He wants you to become the best person you can be.
In some of Jesus Christ’s final words to those gathered at the Last Supper (see http://www.usccb.org/bible/matthew/25), He advised us to use our gifts and talents, and to see the poor and marginalized, and to work to seek justice. As He was preparing to move to His inevitable death upon the cross, He uses these last precious moments to remind His disciples (including you and me) that we will be judged on the way we live our lives. He gives us fair warning.
I will continue to miss my brother-in-law, and I grieve for my sister and her son. These are the human responses to loss. And I surely hope our John asks Mary and her Saints to intervene on my behalf when God decides to call me home! But I am also reminded to conduct my life in a manner that insures I work daily to sustain the kingdom of God on Earth. I accomplish this by acknowledging my gifts and opportunities, recognizing the humanity in my neighbors throughout the world, and acting responsibly to demonstrate loving and compassionate concern. I am called to give from my gifts. You are called as well.
Christian selflessness may not be easy – but it should always be my/our goal.
That is life. That is fair.