Does God Have Favorites?

God Is Unfair?

Is God good?

By Grantley Morris

Part 2 of a Web Series
(It is suggested that you start at Part 1)

The Bible claims that the yearning of God’s heart is to welcome into his family every person who has ever lived. It insists that, without exception, the Almighty freely and joyfully forgives and adopts as his child everyone who will let him, regardless of the fact that none of us deserve it and some of us seem even less desirable than others. ‘He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance’ (See Heart-Stirring Scriptures). ‘For God so loved the world . . . that whoever believes in him shall . . . have eternal life’ (John 3:16 – emphasis mine). This is the ultimate in equality.

Nevertheless, we cannot each be passionately loved if our individuality is disregarded and we are all treated as if our uniqueness meant nothing to God. Our needs, our abilities, and our dreams differ markedly from each other. If a father loves his three children equally, he is compelled to treat them differently, according to their varying needs. A daughter with little interest in sport and having the potential to be a great artist wants experiences and training that are markedly different from her older brother who longs to be a professional sportsman. Her younger brother who is unwell needs still different treatment.

Differential treatment carries the risk of children mistakenly imagining that Father has favorites, but a good parent must be prepared to bear the pain of suffering his loved ones’ anger in order to do what will ultimately be best for them.

When referring to the leaders and big names in the early church, Paul wrote:

    Galatians 2:6 . . . those who seem to be something – whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man – (New King James Version).

Let the truth overwhelm you: the apostle was writing about the so-called pillars of the church, including Peter, James and John (Galatians 2:9). He had in mind the most intimate friends of Jesus when divinely moved to declare that God has no favorites.

Try the Amplified Bible:

    . . . those who were reputed to be something, though what was their individual position and whether they really were of importance or not makes no difference to me; God is not impressed with the positions that men hold and he is not partial and recognizes no external distinctions.

One more time, remembering that the inspired writer was referring to apostles ranked with the greatest and most spiritually gifted leaders the church has ever known:

    . . . as far as their reputed leaders were concerned (I neither know nor care what their exact position was: God is not impressed with a man’s office)  . . . (J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English)

And what of the great apostle himself? Paul reminded the Corinthians that he preached Jesus as Lord and himself, not merely as Christ’s servant but as their slave/servant. (2 Corinthians 4:5 – note also 1 Corinthians 3:4-7)

Prominence in the church – even God-ordained prominence – does not imply prominence in the heart of God. Not even apostleship breaks this immutable rule.

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Do We Pity the Wrong People?

For God to be unfair there must be people who get a raw deal. Where can we find such people?

A peep behind the curtains of death would give us a staggeringly different view of who is to be pitied and how fairly people are being treated. For years, people saw Lazarus languishing at the rich man’s gate, begging for scraps. But what they could not see was the once-rich man spending eternity begging Lazarus for a drop of water (Luke 16:19-31). Although we all deserve nothing but an eternity in hell, Lazarus deserved poverty no more than the wealthy deserve poverty. So that was rectified and he ended up abundantly compensated for his temporary discomfort. The rich man, however, had the opportunity to be generous but spent his money on himself. He, more than Lazarus, deserved to be a beggar. So that’s exactly how it ended up.

It is foolish for us to criticize the script God is writing until we have read the surprise ending. Much of both the good and the bad that happens to us on earth is undeserved, but when the perfection of God’s plan is fully unveiled, every mouth will be hushed.

The Bible is the biggest eye-opener. It shocks us by revealing that reality is spectacularly different to our superficial impressions. It declares that trials, though by their very nature highly unpleasant, are reasons for rejoicing, not sorrow. I used to think the Bible was saying, ‘Rejoice, even though trials are tragedies.’ Finally, I began taking more notice of the context and discovered that it is actually saying something stunningly different. It is not saying, ‘Rejoice, despite the trials,’ but ‘Rejoice, because of the trials.’ It is saying, ‘Trials are a spiritual windfall. Throw a party when hard times come because they are like being given an exciting promotion at work, only exceedingly better. They increase your spiritual status, your contribution to the Kingdom, and your spiritual pay packet. By developing your character, tough times increase both your eternal reward and your ability to achieve things of lasting significance (Scriptures).

The God of the Bible does not beg us to seek miracles but to seek wisdom. His yearning is not to use us as lab rats to work miracles on to show off his power. On the contrary, he longs to dignify us for all eternity by imparting his wisdom to us.

The great illusion is that Christians enduring hard times seem to be hard done by. The astounding reality is that these people are actually receiving a priceless bonus. It is as staggering as hacking through someone’s chest, grabbing the flesh of his heart and claiming the victim is being blessed. An ignorant person would never believe it. Only someone who realized that the person is undergoing life-saving heart surgery would understand that the apparent cruelty is indeed a great blessing. Likewise, we are usually too ignorant and too focused on life this side of the grave to understand spiritual blessings.

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A key feature of Jesus’ teaching is that present inequalities will be ironed out in the life to come – so much so as to boggle our mind.

    Luke 6:20-26 Looking at his disciples, he said:

    ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

    Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.

    Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

    Blessed are you when men hate you . . . because of the Son of Man, . . . . because great is your reward in heaven.  . . .

    But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.

    Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.

    Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.

    Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.’

    (Emphasis mine.)

What an equalizer! Those we feel sorry for because they seem hard done by are the very ones whom God says are the most blessed, and those we are tempted to envy because of all their apparent God-given privileges are actually those most in danger of the judgment of God. From an eternal perspective, those who seem to have all the lucky breaks actually have the odds stacked against them, and those who seem to get the raw deal are the ones most likely to succeed spiritually.

This reminds me of what Scripture says about Christians:

    1 Corinthians 12:2 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, (23) and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, (24) while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, (25) so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

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Society’s Rejects Warmed his Heart

Almost wherever we go in Scripture we bump into this teaching. As I wrote elsewhere:

    If to the world you seem insignificant, it merely intensifies God’s longing to raise you high. This common theme in Scripture is worthy of close examination (examples).

    Recall the Messiah’s birth. The leaders, the teachers, the theologians, and the priests, were oblivious to it. Heaven shared the news with shepherds at work; with old, temple-bound Anna; (Luke 2:8-18; 36-38) and with ‘wise men from the east’. The latter presumably weren’t even Jews.

    It was the common people who heard this Man gladly (Mark 12:37 b). And it was from their ranks that he hand picked the ones to fire the world with his glory. He chose hotheads with provincial accents, a tax man – a small-time turncoat any self-respecting citizen would spit on – and logheads with the stench of fish on their callused hands.

    Christ was continually aware of the invisible people, whether it was a despised tax collector peering through the leaves, or an unclean woman pressing through the throng; a wild-eyed madman in the Decapolis back-blocks, or a luckless loner at the pool; a sightless misfit, or a stinking leper; a cripple, or a mute (Luke 19:2-9; 8:43-48; 7:11-15; 21:1-4, 8:27 ff; John 5:2 ff). To a tired and hungry Jesus, befriending a spurned woman – giving hope to a despised Samaritan living in shame – was more important than food. Society’s rejects warmed his heart.

    It seemed wherever there was a paltry act of kindness you’d find religious people simmering with contempt, and Jesus glowing with admiration. A pauper slipping a pittance into the offering (Mark 12:41-44), a street woman’s pathetic washing of his feet (Luke 7:36-50), a boy’s fish sandwiches (John 6:9-11), thrilled him. Mary just sat on the floor in rapt attention. That was enough to fill him with praise (Luke 10:39-42).

    Jesus was forever shocking his observers by selecting non-entities for special attention. Society saw a dirty beggar, a nauseating blotch on the neighborhood, a curiosity for theological debate. (Is it right to heal on the Sabbath? Who sinned, he or his parents?) Jesus saw a worthy recipient of his powerful love; a precious work of God brimming with beauty, dignity and heart-wrenching need; someone to die for. While crowds turned up their noses, he poured out his heart. They saw a slut; he saw a saint in the making. They saw a criminal; he saw someone he longed to spend eternity with. The people everyone wanted to avoid were the very ones he wanted to befriend (Luke 23:39-43).

    The masses tried to silence blind Bartimeus, the loud-mouthed groveler (Mark 10:46-52). They sneered at Zacchaeus, the money-grubbing runt who soon towered over them by displaying exceptional generosity (Luke 19:2-8). His followers wanted to push aside snotty children (Mark 10:13-16). They opposed the Canaanite pest whose incessant nagging was driving them to distraction (Matthew 15:23). No one could guess who Jesus would next honor. It was sure to be some faceless loser they had not even noticed, or an embarrassing nuisance they wished would skulk away.

    Jesus came to show us the Father. Today, the religious world still looks at the big names, while God treasures the ‘unknowns’. He delights to endow with eternal grandeur their simple acts of service.

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Every Valley shall be Exalted

Throughout the Old Testament, we see that the people particularly close to God’s heart are the three most economically and socially disadvantaged groups of people in ancient society – widows, orphans and immigrants (Scriptures).

The Bible sometimes portrays the downtrodden have-nots as valleys and the exalted haves as mountains. This is why we find such Scriptures as:

    Isaiah 40:4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low . . . (5) And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. . . .

Expressed less poetically:

    Luke 1:52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. (53) He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

Expressed more humorously:

    He who gets too big for his britches will be exposed in the end. She who thinks she is getting away with gorging herself will find that everything pans out in the end. People she supposes she has left behind will see her enjoyment of ‘the good life’ beginning to bottom out. It could be too late when eventually she figures out that things have gone pear shaped. The bottom line is that although they might initially seem blessed, everyone surrendering to ease and self-indulging will end up left behind in a big way.

It is significant that the two Scriptures quoted above refer to the Messiah. The great Leveler is indeed the Christ and it is upon his return that it will be manifested. He will bring about the equalizing that God has always been working towards.

    1 Samuel 2:8 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.

    Ezekiel 17:24 All the trees of the field will know that I the LORD bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.

    Ezekiel 21:26 this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Take off the turban, remove the crown. It will not be as it was: The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low.

Over and over, the Bible keeps insisting that the humble will be raised high and the proud brought down. It keeps repeating this because it is not obvious to those who cannot see eternity.

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Do Those Who Have it Easy, Really Have it Easy?

We suppose that those who live in luxury have an unfair advantage, and yet these are the very people who are disadvantaged in the things that really count. Jesus revealed that although those blessed with earthly riches seem to have it easy, it is particularly hard for them to enter the kingdom and be blessed with heaven’s riches (Matthew 19:23-24). Yes, at any moment those enjoying earthly comfort could choose to give away their riches and become equal to those whose poverty makes them more likely candidates for spiritual riches. Nevertheless, those we think have it so easy, find it so hard to free themselves from the addiction to the soft life that threatens their eternity. So is it better to be born rich or impoverished? It is the meek, the lowly, the humble who will be lifted high. It is those who are despised on earth who will be honored in heaven.

Those born into families devoted to full time ministry and/or blessed with the best theological training would seem to have significant spiritual advantages and yet Jesus said that it is easier for prostitutes and extortionists to enter heaven than those with these very advantages – the chief priests and elders (Matthew 21:31b).

It turns out that those we envy do not, in the final analysis, have any advantage over us. Those for whom life is a bed of roses can only hope some thorns wake them out of their stupor before it is too late.

Some Christians battle such severe pain and depression that they will receive enormous rewards merely for staying alive, rather than surrendering to the temptation to kill themselves. In contrast, a Christian with a carefree life would have to do something quite outstanding to be judged worthy of so rich a reward.

If shown snap shots of new born babies, we would have no idea who to feel sorry for. Those who look shriveled up might turn out to be the most beautiful. Those who are crying might end up the healthiest and happiest. Those with a dumb expression on their face might end up being the most intelligent. Relative to eternity, what we see in an entire lifetime is but a snap shot. Until we enter eternity we have no idea who to pity.

Is God good?

Life’s Complexities

Suppose Tom, Dick and Harry commence their working lives able to labor for however many hours they wish. Each is paid the same hourly rate and can contribute to a retirement fund that pays an amazing ten thousand percent. They know that at the end of five years they must live off their retirement fund and can earn nothing more for the rest of their lives. Tom has a blissfully lazy five years, working just the few hours required to keep him in bare necessities for that period. Dick, however, works long hours and spends all his earnings on luxury. Harry has a still different approach. He works even longer hours than Dick and lives on even less money than Tom. Every spare cent he can scrape together goes into his retirement fund. For five years, it seems as if Harry, slaving such long hours and living an impoverished lifestyle is to be pitied. Nevertheless, when they retire, he can bask in luxury for all the years ahead of him. The others, who had seemed to have had enviable lifestyles, face a bleak life of hardship and starvation.

Each moment on earth is a never-to-be-repeated opportunity to contribute to your eternal retirement fund. The returns are so astounding that they are literally out of this world. Nevertheless, the final payout is based solely on payments made in this life. So, despite what it seems in the short term, those who have coasted in this life, expending little effort for the kingdom of God, are in a frightening predicament. It is those embracing hardship and sacrifice who are headed for abundance.

Scripture emphasizes what every runner knows: what matters is not where we are near the start of the race, but where we are judged to be at the finish. Not only are there those whose start is so promising but fade away, there are those who seem to spectators to finish well, only to be disqualified.

When we see only part of the picture, it appears most unfair that some people seem to have a head start in life. It’s a little like racing around a 400 meter track in the Olympics. Because it’s a circular track, some athletes start much further ahead than others. It doesn’t seem right. For a long time it looks as if those in front have an unfair advantage, but by time the race is over, it has sorted out perfectly.

Of course, for those in the human race, life is exceedingly more complex than that. The race of life is the most peculiar event in the world with the highest conceivable prizes and penalties. Imagine a race with people of all different ages and abilities competing in the same event. Some have the bodies of magnificent athletes. Some are sickly. Some have only one leg. A few have none. Some plod through knee-deep snow, some must hack their way through steaming jungles, some climb terrifying mountains, while others speed across manicured lawns. Some must go enormous distances. A few have only a few steps. The whole event seems too ridiculously chaotic to be considered a race. To most observers it seems the most unfair competition ever staged. Unknown to them, however, down to the minutest detail, every one of the thousands of variables is carefully weighted in the Judge’s scoring of each of the billions of participants. Each competitor is carefully monitored to measure the exact amount of effort exerted and pain endured, and it is by this measure that they are judged. The scoring task is so far beyond human intellectual capacity as to seem impossible, but the Judge is divine. Every advantage and disadvantage is so ingeniously considered that there ends up being absolute equality in the way every person’s achievement is evaluated.

Unless disqualified by not committing their lives and destinies to Jesus Christ, all participants win the major prize – an eternity in the splendor of God’s presence. Additional rewards depend upon one’s faithfulness, given one’s individual circumstances, opportunities, natural abilities, and so on. This is where those who so far seem to have missed out, find abundant compensation, and those who have been seemingly spoilt, face a rude shock unless they were exceptionally Christlike in the way they used their privileges. In the words of Jesus, ‘From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded’ (Luke 12:48), and ‘Many who are first will be last, and the last first’ (Mark 10:31).

As in any race, those who start off well should be judged not on that but on where they are when they finish. Though the apostle Paul had done so much, he had to write, ‘I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize’ (1 Corinthians 9:27). Some of us think it unfair that how we finish should count so much. Should all one’s effort in the early part of one’s life be disregarded if one later fades away? (This is forcefully expressed in Ezekiel 33:12-20.) Those who are in the lead in the early stages have the chance to be leading at the end. Moreover, the longer the time, the more a person’s true character is revealed. A person who is close to God and then grows cold deserves to be treated more severely because he has turned away from far greater revelation and understanding than a non-Christian has. The more a person has, the more that is required of him.

In the Final Judgment, we will experience the culmination of God’s plans for perfect fairness, no matter how unfair our assignment in the human race has seemed. Unless those given an easy life so exert themselves as to break through the pain barrier in their quest to glorify God, they cannot expect to be rewarded like those who in this life have victoriously grappled with pain that has been thrust upon them.

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What Could Ever Make Pain Worthwhile?

But how could anyone who has suffered horrifically be adequately compensated in the life to come? We know that for the apostle Paul, bouts of languishing in prison were interspersed with more stimulating activities, like five times reeling under the Jewish maximum number of lashes and three times being tortured with rods. He was so viciously and relentlessly pounded with rocks that he was presumed dead. If you’re afraid of flying and yet never been in a single plane crash, spare a thought for Paul. In the days before buoyancy vests, flares, radios and search planes, he was shipwrecked at least three times, once spending about twenty-four hours in the water (2 Corinthians 11:23-29). Such was his earthly reward for seeking to spread a message of love and rescue people from the horror of hell. Would you say Paul was one of those people who might possibly have reason for saying life has given them a raw deal? And yet with his astonishing list of sufferings fresh in his mind, he dismisses his tortuous existence as light, momentary troubles not worthy to be compared with heaven’s rewards (2 Corinthians 4:17; Romans 8:18; note also Matthew 5:11-12).

Paul sounds like a nut case. What makes him seem like he’s from another planet is that he had indeed visited another world. But what of the millions of us who, unlike Paul, have never visited heaven? How can we imagine a reward so stupendous as to completely swallow up the most horrendous earthly suffering and even make it seem worthwhile? It is so far beyond our current experience that in a desperate attempt to help provide a vague understanding, the Bible often refers to childbirth. When in the agony of giving birth to her first child, many a woman becomes determined never to have another baby. It seems beyond belief that anything would be worth enduring such pain. Nevertheless, the joy of motherhood makes the pain so worthwhile that later she would grieve bitterly if told she will be granted her former wish of never having another baby. Pain is still awful, but the final reward makes it so worthwhile that she actually chooses to embrace the pain.

But why should anyone have to suffer pain in the first place? For the answer see the remainder of this webseries.

Continued . . .

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