In recent discussions about the church and theology, a trend has been emerging that I find rather disturbing. This trend actually crosses the left/right, progressive/traditionalist, (pick your labels and sides here) divide and seems to be infecting us all…and it needs to stop. The trend is this insane idea that everything should be, and must be, fair.
Let’s start with some hard truths. Nowhere in scripture is there a promise that anything will be fair this side of heaven. In reality, this is a rehash of the old question of why do bad things happen to good people, and conversely why do good things happen to bad people. No, not exactly, but in the same vein and spirit I would venture. The rain falls on the just and unjust. The sun shines on the same. It is the same basic question asked in a new way. It is a difficult question for many of us, but I venture that is because we have a poor understanding of creation, sin, man’s fall from grace, and the promised justification and sanctification of the faithful. As often is the case, we can find some answers from our Wesleyan heritage in the form of Wesley’s sermons. We are going to be talking a lot about creation in this, and the following blogs. I want to be clear here that what is required for understanding what follows is that God created. There is a time and a place for speaking of how He did so, but this is not it really. No matter if you are young Earth or old Earth, theistic evolution, or seven day creation, is irrelevant to understanding what is here. You also must understand that the fall from grace of man is a real thing. You may believe in the literal garden of Eden, or believe that it is an allegorical story, but if you do not believe that there was a time when man was indeed perfect, then this won’t make sense to you. If you do not believe that God created and that there was a real fall from grace marring the image of God in man, then not only will this not make sense to you, the rest will not either and a good bit of Wesleyan theology will be lost on you as well. I do not say this to be mean, I say this so that you know what you are getting into as you choose to go forward reading.
To start looking at why life is not “fair” we have to go back to the beginning. The big “In the beginning” in fact. In sermon 60, Wesley examines the text from Romans 8:19-22 and in doing so, delves into creation. The sermon is worth reading, so take the time. Wesley calls the original state of the Earth and man the “brute creation”. He describes this in some detail, but for our purposes, he makes clear that “It was paradisiacal; perfectly happy.” The beasts of the field and the birds of the air, etc. all lived in harmony with Adam in the paradise of the garden. This was the original design of God. Understanding many of the essential attributes of God (justice, mercy, love, etc.), we can safely say that in this paradise, all was indeed “fair”. Why was this the case? Again, we can refer to Wesley’s sermon here.
“Above all, (which was his highest excellence, far more valuable than all the rest put together,) he was a creature capable of God; capable of knowing, loving, and obeying his Creator. And, in fact, he did know God, did unfeignedly love and uniformly obey him. This was the supreme perfection of man; (as it is of all intelligent beings;) the continually seeing, and loving, and obeying the Father of the spirits of all flesh. From this right state and right use of all his faculties, his happiness naturally flowed. In this the essence of his happiness consisted; But it was increased by all the things that were round about him. He saw, with unspeakable pleasure, the order, the beauty, the harmony, of all the creatures; of all animated, all inanimate nature; the serenity of the skies; the sun walking in brightness; the sweetly variegated clothing of the earth; the trees, the fruits, the flowers, And liquid lapse of murmuring streams. Nor was this pleasure interrupted by evil of any kind. It had no alloy of sorrow or pain, whether of body or mind. For while he was innocent he was impassive; incapable of suffering. Nothing could stain his purity of joy. And, to crown all, he was immortal.”
In short, man had not been corrupted. The Imago Dei had not been marred. “Fair” existed as a natural attribute of paradise and perfection. We do not have this now of course. If you read further into Wesley’s sermon, you will find that the reason for this is the fall from grace.
” How true then is that word, “God saw everything that he had made: and behold it was very good!” But how far is this from being the present case! In what a condition is the whole lower world! — to say nothing of inanimate nature, wherein all the elements seem to be out of course, and by turns to fight against man. Since man rebelled against his Maker, in what a state is all animated nature! Well might the Apostle say of this: “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain until now.” This directly refers to the brute creation In what state this is at present we are now to consider.”
Most of our parental figures at one point in time or another have told us that life is not “fair”….and they are correct. Not only is it not fair, it can not be fair with the world in it’s current state. Now, this should not be taken as license to treat others poorly, far from it in fact. We should be doing all that we can to be “capable of God; capable of knowing, loving, and obeying”. When we succeed in doing this, we are doing all that our current frail and imperfect forms can in order to be “fair”, that is to act as if we are indeed the inheritors of the new heaven and earth to come. In order for us to be “fair” however, we who are justified and being sanctified must remove our own ideas of what is fair and place them back where they belong, that is with The Creator, as well as continue on the journey to Christian perfection so that we can be as close to the actions in paradise as possible before the fall. That is to say we must be capable of knowing, loving and obeying God. The love part we do not struggle with most often I suspect. The knowing God is difficult as the image is marred in us, hence the need for sanctification continually restoring that image to it’s proper likeness. The obeying part though, there’s the rub. We are not terribly good at that, and even worse agreeing upon what we should obey. This is why a consistent theology is so terribly important. If we remain with a consistent Wesleyan theology, combined with the Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith, as well as Wesley’s sermons and General Rules, we find that we have a standard of faith that guides us in this. If we accept that Wesleyan theology is the best expression of faith and that it should be our guide, we find that while we still have many questions, but that the answers are most often available to us. We will continue to explore those answers as we move forward in this. Perhaps some will ask questions that we can delve into as well.
It isn’t “fair”, you are right. Life is not, the world is not, the present order of creation itself is not. It isn’t fair because of the fall. It is not fair because the creation that God looked down upon and said was very good is no longer so. It is not “fair” because the whole of creation is groaning for redemption. It is not “fair” because the image of God has been marred and can not be fully restored this side of the promised resurrection of the faithful. There are ways that we can contribute to making the world a place that is more “fair”, but we are all to often not willing to do so. In this I have tried to briefly go into how we got into this current mess of life and the world not being “fair”. Next up will be why it not being fair is actually a good thing for us as faithful followers.