What Can You Do When Life Isn't Fair?

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What Can You Do When Life Isn't Fair?

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When I was a youngster, one my most frequent complaints was, "That's not fair!" Everything had to be fair, and if it wasn't—well—it just wasn't fair!

When I complained about a perceived family injustice, my father would remind me of his often-used phrase, "Life isn't fair." He would explain that if I expected fairness throughout life, I would be sadly disappointed because it just wasn't going to happen.

Of course, I didn't like hearing that—but as I matured, I came to see that inequitable, troublesome and undeserved events occur in everyone's life.

Even so, unfair treatment still bothers me—especially when I see it deliberately perpetrated against innocent, unsuspecting people. Perhaps you share a similar reaction when you learn that an unscrupulous person has taken advantage of someone or a criminal has gone unpunished.

Furthermore, how do you feel when you are personally cheated, lied about, improperly reprimanded or deeply betrayed, or your reputation is carelessly tarnished?

Realizing such actions are inherently wrong, our natural human reaction is to feel distressed and offended. We may then respond by turning angry and bitter or seeking revenge. Alternatively, we may retreat into sadness or depression and withdraw from those who emotionally harmed us.

Are those effective ways to handle unfairness, or are there more constructive and productive methods? When life's events hand us significant troubles or when people treat us unfairly and unjustly, what should we do? How can we weather the upset and disappointment we will predictably feel?

A difficult start in life

Consider the story of Anne Mansfield Sullivan. Born on April 14, 1866, in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts, Anne's youth was filled with hardship and adversity. Not only was she raised in deep poverty, but she was physically abused by her alcoholic father. At age five she contracted trachoma, a bacterial infection of the eye. This virulent disease was left untreated, causing her to nearly go blind.

When Anne turned eight years old, her mother, Alice Sullivan, died of tuberculosis. Two years later her father abandoned both Anne and her brother James to the state infirmary in Tewksbury, Mass., after finding it difficult to raise the children alone.

Conditions at the institution were deplorable since it was chronically underfunded, in disrepair and severely overcrowded. If that wasn't bad enough, after just three months James died from tuberculosis.

During her four-year stay at Tewksbury, Anne received two operations that failed to significantly correct her vision. However, in October 1880, as Anne turned 14 years old, she was accepted into the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston (founded in 1832 and operating to this day).

Overcoming the obstacles

At the Perkins School her situation began to improve. Anne received additional treatment for her eyes that enhanced her sight enough so she could read for short periods. As a result, she diligently concentrated on her academic education. Anne also learned sign language so as to communicate with a friend who was both deaf and blind. Anne studied so meticulously that she graduated as class valedictorian on June 1, 1886.

In her valedictory address she challenged her classmates and herself by stating: "Fellow graduates, duty bids us go forth into active life. Let us go cheerfully, hopefully and earnestly, and set ourselves to find our especial part. When we have found it, willingly and faithfully perform it; for every obstacle we overcome, every success we achieve tends to bring man closer to God and make life more as He would have it."

Several teachers and staff members at the Perkins School were impressed with Anne's positive attitude, talents, intelligence and persistence. This included school director Michael Anagnos, who personally recommended Anne be accepted by the Keller family in Tuscumbia, Alabama, as tutor and mentor to their blind, deaf and mute daughter Helen.

Anne Sullivan became the instructor to whom Helen Keller, one of the most admired women of the 20th century, acclaimed as making an extraordinary impact on her life. In chapter four of Helen Keller's autobiography, The Story of My Life, she wrote, "The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me."

We choose how to react

What does Anne Sullivan's story illustrate? Considering the significant troubles she encountered in her youth, she could have turned frustrated, morose and resentful. She could have ceaselessly complained about the unfairness of her upbringing and the hardships she experienced.

But she didn't. Instead, Anne chose to rise above her circumstances and use every opportunity to discover, develop and expand her talents and abilities. In doing so, she grew in emotional maturity and character.

Just as Anne Sullivan consciously resolved to handle her disadvantages in a constructive manner, you and I have choices when we are afflicted by inequity and injustice. Whether we face a recent difficult setback or a long-term situation as profound as what Anne encountered, we can choose how we will react and what we will do.

The Bible offers examples of such choices from both a positive and negative perspective.

The story of Joseph and his brothers

To illustrate, let's briefly examine the account of Joseph and his brothers from Genesis 37. The story begins when Joseph brought a negative report to his father Jacob on how his brothers were tending their flocks (verses 1-2). Joseph's account upset and irritated them. Furthermore, the brothers could see that their father overwhelmingly favored Joseph above them (verse 3). This perceived unfairness greatly annoyed and angered them and led to intense feelings of envy and resentment—even hatred.

Later, Joseph experienced two vivid dreams in which it appeared he was greatly honored by his father and brothers. In relating the dreams to his brothers, they imagined he was pretentiously exalting himself, which infuriated them even more (verse 5-11).

Afterward Jacob again sent Joseph to visit his brothers as they were tending their flocks and report back to him. By this time their hatred toward Joseph had grown so great that they began contemplating his murder (verses 18-20).

Realizing the dire nature of their antagonism, the eldest brother Reuben succeeded in calming the others down for a short time (verses 21-24). But later, without Reuben's knowledge, they threw Joseph into a pit and sold him to passing Ishmaelite traders for 20 shekels of silver.

To hide their treachery, the brothers killed a goat and dipped Joseph's tunic in its blood. Then they took the bloodstained garment to Jacob and told him that a wild animal must have killed Joseph. On hearing this, Jacob wept bitterly and refused to be comforted over losing his son (verse 33).

Joseph's reaction to unfair treatment

There is much more to the remarkable story of Joseph as a slave and later as a ruler in Egypt (Genesis 39–50). But suffice it to say that, considering the unfair actions he endured, Joseph could have turned bitter and spent endless hours wallowing in his troubles and nursing his emotional wounds. But he didn't.

Instead, he decided to concentrate his talents and energies on becoming the best person he could be while trusting God for help in every situation. In fact, when his brothers later came to Egypt where Joseph was now a high official, he chose to treat them with kindness, generosity and forgiveness—even explaining to them that God used the bad thing they had done to ultimately save their and others' lives (Genesis 50:15-21 Genesis 50:15-21 [15] And when Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did to him. [16] And they sent a messenger to Joseph, saying, Your father did command before he died, saying, [17] So shall you say to Joseph, Forgive, I pray you now, the trespass of your brothers, and their sin; for they did to you evil: and now, we pray you, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father. And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. [18] And his brothers also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be your servants. [19] And Joseph said to them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? [20] But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it to good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. [21] Now therefore fear you not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spoke kindly to them.
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His example demonstrates that what happens within a person is significantly more important than what happens to him!

As this example makes plain, God is fully capable of eventually equalizing unfair circumstances. Also, as the apostle Peter explained, God carefully watches over those who, while suffering unjustly, remain faithfully obedient to Him. "God will bless you, even if others treat you unfairly for being loyal to him" (1 Peter 2:19 1 Peter 2:19For this is thank worthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.
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, Good News Bible).

God allows unfair circumstances and events

Certainly, God can make things right in this physical life—but He doesn't always choose to do so. In His wisdom, He sometimes allows unfair and even disgraceful treatment to afflict His faithful followers (Psalms 119:75 Psalms 119:75I know, O LORD, that your judgments are right, and that you in faithfulness have afflicted me.
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The Bible's "Faith chapter," Hebrews 11, describes how this was true of a number of God's servants: "Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy.

"They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us" (verses 36-40).

Also, consider Jesus Christ. Having lived a totally sinless life, He was undeserving of the merciless treatment He received (Matthew 16:21 Matthew 16:21From that time forth began Jesus to show to his disciples, how that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
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). What was His response to such dreadful unfairness? He willingly and faithfully placed His circumstance in His Father's just and mighty hands. "When He was reviled, [He] did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Peter 2:23 1 Peter 2:23Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judges righteously:
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). Indeed, He prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34 Luke 23:34Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.
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Looking beyond today's world

What is God's message to His people today? It is to react in the same manner Christ did when we suffer unjustly. We are to "pursue peace with all people" (Hebrews 12:14 Hebrews 12:14Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:
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), and Jesus Christ admonished His followers to handle unfairness and iniquity with love and forgiveness (Matthew 5:44-45 Matthew 5:44-45 [44] But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you; [45] That you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
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Of course there may be certain instances where we can respectfully defend ourselves against unfair actions. For example, the apostle Paul used his rights as a Roman citizen to shield himself from the abusive treatment of military authorities (Acts 22:25 Acts 22:25And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to whip a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?
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Also, when handling an offense or disagreement with someone, the Bible counsels us to go directly to that individual to peacefully discuss the problem to determine if it can be resolved equitably
(Matthew 18:15-16 Matthew 18:15-16 [15] Moreover if your brother shall trespass against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone: if he shall hear you, you have gained your brother. [16] But if he will not hear you, then take with you one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
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Paul also recognized, however, that complete justice will not always occur in this present age ruled by the devil (Galatians 1:4 Galatians 1:4Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:
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; Luke 4:6 Luke 4:6And the devil said to him, All this power will I give you, and the glory of them: for that is delivered to me; and to whomsoever I will I give it.
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). Looking beyond today he wrote, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18 Romans 8:18For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
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The ultimate answer to unfairness

The reality is that everyone experiences unfairness in life. It was certainly true for Anne Sullivan, for young Joseph and especially for Jesus Christ, who endured momentous injustice (Hebrews 12:2 Hebrews 12:2Looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
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). The key principle to remember is that how we react to unfair treatment is more important than what has happened to us.

Responding to unjust situations or actions in anger, bitterness and revenge is not the answer (Ephesians 4:31-32 Ephesians 4:31-32 [31] Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: [32] And be you kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you.
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). Rather, trusting God in faith and obedience brings true peace of mind and, in due course, entrance into eternal life (Philippians 4:6-7 Philippians 4:6-7 [6] Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. [7] And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
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; Matthew 19:17 Matthew 19:17And he said to him, Why call you me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if you will enter into life, keep the commandments.
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The time is coming when Satan and his demons will be removed and Jesus Christ will reign on the earth (Revelation 11:15 Revelation 11:15And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
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; 20:1-5; 5:10). When that day dawns, all inequities, including those we have personally experienced, will be fully corrected (Romans 8:35-39 Romans 8:35-39 [35] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? [36] As it is written, For your sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. [37] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. [38] For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, [39] Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
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So the next time you feel you have been treated unfairly, you could be right. What should you do as a result? Carefully bring to mind that "all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28 Romans 8:28And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
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). Let us always reflect and act on this when life is unfair! 

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