Dealing with Life’s Unfairness

I read Susanna yesterday for my daily quiet time. Susanna is a part of various Greek texts of the Book of Daniel.

Susanna is a beautiful woman who happens to be married. There are two wicked elders who want her badly. And so they approach her in the garden and bluntly proposition her. She decides to obey God rather than man, so the elders make up a story that they saw her with a young hunk who was not her husband. People believe the elders, and they’re about to put Susanna to death.

At just the right time, Daniel enters the picture. He asks to question each elder individually, and he finds that their stories conflict with each other. Daniel tells them that God will exact retribution for their record of unjust judgments. Susanna is freed, and Daniel gains a reputation as a wise man.

It’s almost like a movie, in which the bad guys lose and good triumphs in the end. One commentary I read stated that the Susanna section doesn’t really hope for a good afterlife, since it expects God to reward and punish in the here-and-now.

But I don’t think that the Susanna portion is all that optimistic. After all, these wicked elders had wreaked a lot of lives in their positions. Where was the happy ending of the people they wronged? When these elders sided with the rich and powerful, who robbed, exploited, or oppressed the poor, the poor were left holding the short end of the stick.

Many of us know that life is not fair. Those who do right are not always rewarded. Those who do wrong are not always punished. There are people in the world with disabilities or other disadvantages, which may be related to health, economics, physical appearance, or who knows what else?

A while back, I was complaining about my Asperger’s on this blog, and someone told me I should be glad I’m not in a wheelchair (or something to that effect). And I am glad about that, since things can always be worse. But I don’t think that lets God off the hook, since why does he allow anybody to suffer? Why is life so unfair?

Here are three points I got from Susanna:

1. Maybe God does reward and punish in this life. I don’t know, to be honest. I’m not sure if life always (or usually) works out like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but I wouldn’t be surprised if God every-now-and-then gives the wicked what they deserve, while he rewards the righteous.

2. We can be a part of the solution. Susanna would have been unjustly executed, had Daniel not stepped forward. And Daniel ensured that, in at least that one situation, fairness and righteousness got to prevail.

The problem is that people who engage in social justice can easily become burnt-out, since the challenges they face are so big. How can I as an individual end poverty? Our government hasn’t even accomplished that, so how can little James Pate? But I can try to bring justice to individual situations. I don’t have to blow off people who may not attract me, but I can be kind and fair to them. I can give money to food banks so that people can have an opportunity to eat. I can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

3. Susanna prayed when she was facing injustice. This isn’t always easy. If God allows unfairness in so many situations, why should I trust that he’ll make an exception in my case? I don’t know. But it doesn’t hurt to talk to him.

One thing I’m afraid of is that I’ll be in a situation where someone can falsely accuse me of something, and I’ll be unable to defend myself. My accuser will have the social skills to make me look bad, whereas I’ll be helpless. What will I do if that situation arises? There are people with Asperger’s who are bullied in schools and on the job. Where is God in their situations?

I should be concerned about those questions and support attempts to alleviate such problems. At the same time, I should trust God for myself, even if it looks like he’s not doing much for others. It’s hard, but what else can I do?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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