Most everyone knows life isn’t fair. But for some reason, believers sometimes forget this and think being treated unfairly only happens to other people. In fact, we’re often surprised when we’re treated unfairly, as if the rules of life are different for us because we’re Christian.
Not only that, we also have a bad habit of questioning God when things aren’t going exactly like we planned, especially if we’re dealing with some sort of injustice in our lives. Although we know in the end God will ultimately put things right (Romans 12:19), we sometimes think God’s justice is a future promise and not relevant when it comes to our everyday life.
However, we rarely see the whole picture of how God is working in a situation. And because of this, we tend to see things negatively. A good example of this can be found in the Jewish fable: The Rabbi and the Cow.
The fable begins with a rabbi who is saddened by the unfairness found in the world. One night he is visited by the prophet Elijah who gives the rabbi an opportunity to travel the world with him to see if Jewish hospitality still exists. Elijah tells the rabbi that no matter what happens he is only there to observe. After disguising themselves as filthy beggars, they begin their journey.
One day the “beggars” come across a poor farmer and his wife who live in a hovel. They have nothing but an old cow whose milk they sell each morning for their survival. Although they are very poor, the couple offers food and shelter to the men, giving up their bed and sharing their meager milk.
The next morning, the farmer’s wife goes to the barn to milk the cow but instead finds it dead. The farmer and his wife are greatly distressed and worried about their future since the cow’s milk was their only source of income. The rabbi, saddened by their misfortune, can do nothing but give the couple a blessing before leaving to continue on their journey.
Later that evening, the travelers came to a grand home that was bustling with activity. The owner of the house and his servants were preparing a large wedding for the owner’s daughter. The “beggars” ask for food and shelter but the owner of the house was harsh and cruel telling them to go away or he would have them forcefully removed. Finally, after pleading desperately, the owner of the house agreed to let them sleep in his old barn, just to get rid of them.
But he did not provide their empty stomachs with food or clean straw to sleep on. In fact, there was a large hole in the barn wall which kept the barn drafty and chilly throughout the night and they barely slept. The following morning, Elijah told the rabbi they should fix the hole in the barn wall so the animals would be warmer at night. So they fixed the hole without telling the owner and went on their way.
Finally the rabbi could take no more and complained about the unfairness of the world — specifically about the suffering of the farmer and his wife and the prosperity of the stingy owner of the house.
But Elijah explained there were more to things than what meets the eye. In regards to the poor farmer and his wife, the angel of death had come to take the farmer’s wife that night while everyone was sleeping. Elijah talked the angel of death into sparing the farmer’s wife and taking the cow instead. And although things appeared to be dire, God was giving the farmer and his wife a new, younger cow — a cow which would soon wander onto their property and provide them with years of good, quality milk.
In regards to the stingy owner of the house, Elijah explained that someone long ago had hidden a jar full of gold coins in the hole of the barn wall. If the owner had fixed the hole himself, he would have found the coins. But since they had fixed the wall, the jar of coins will stay hidden. And not only that, at some future time, the owner of the house will lose everything he has and will become what he despises most — a lonely, filthy beggar whose survival will depend on the kindness of others.
Although there are many lessons we can take from this fable, one is quite obvious; we don’t know all the details or outcomes of most circumstances. And because we don’t know all the details, we’d be fools to question God about whether a situation is fair or unfair.
But most of us are just like the rabbi in the fable — guilty of complaining about an injustice without knowing or understanding what God is doing now or what he will do in the future (Isaiah 55:8-9). If we would just look beyond ourselves and what we consider fair, we might be able to see something else — the blessings God continually gives each and every one of us.
After all, God doesn’t ask us to understand what he’s doing, he just asks us to trust him.
Maybe that’s the real lesson here.
Donna Hughey is an award-winning Christian author and columnist. She lives in Crescent City.