Monday, March 1, 2010

What do we deserve?

How common it is to hear God blamed for things. A young lady I know sent a message to my wife the other day that simply said “why does God hate me?” After some investigation it turns out this lady’s friend had a pretty severe skiing accident involving a high-speed crash and collision with a tree and at the time it wasn’t clear how badly she had been hurt (we think she will be ok but prayers are appreciated!).

And God took the blame.

My wife calmly explained that God neither pushed her friend into a tree nor did he will it or desire it to happen.

It appears that there is an entitlement issue here. This young lady seemed to think her friend was entitled to an accident-free skiing trip; she "deserved" it. This attitude is all around us; we hold a certain standard of what is "fair", good health, nice things (slightly nicer than the neighbor’s), and a comfortable lifestyle. We tell ourselve we deserve these things. The problem is life isn’t always comfortable, we don’t always have the nicest things, and people do get hurt.

How do we reconcile the fact that we don't always get what we think we deserve?

The most honest view (in 95% of situations) is that our expectations were unreasonable and we weren’t actually entitled to the things we thought we deserved. Another 4% of the time we probably didn’t do the work required to get what we feel we deserved. We didn’t “make our own luck”.

That leaves about 1% of “unfair” situations that are truly unfair. These are rough numbers but I think they’re pretty accurate.

The problem with this model is that nearly all the blame for “unfairmess” is on us. We don’t like that, do we? We want to be the victim so we’re justified in feeling badly for ourselves, right? We can’t do that if it’s our fault.

It’s much easier to blame someone else. Maybe it’s my deadbeat dad’s fault, or the government, or God.

After all, God is the perfect scapegoat. We can blame him for absolutely anything and he won’t say a word to defend himself. He says he loves us. He says he’s all-powerful and yet bad things happen. How tempting to say that if he loves us and he can do anything then he should prevent any and all unpleasantness.

This is why I figure we have unreasonable expectations 95% of the time (I’m pretty sure that’s too low, actually). In reality we don’t deserve a life of constant pleasure and comfort. We deserve a life of pain, sorrow, and ultimately death. If life was truly “fair” we would all be much worse off than we are today. The first reading in today’s Mass explains why this is:

“We have sinned, been wicked and done evil; we have rebelled and departed from your commandments and your laws. We have not obeyed your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers, and all the people of the land. Justice, O Lord, is on your side;” (Dn 9:5-7)

Our default condition is fallen. We are entitled to no more than death. If we receive anything more than this we have been given far more than we deserve. If we sued God for the things we believe are “unfair”, God would be immediately vindicated and we condemned for justice is firmly on God’s side.

Consider the story of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15). Imagine if the son who had received his inheritance and then squandered it and was suffering the effects had the nerve to blame his father. Wouldn’t that be horribly unfair of the son? Isn’t it obvious the son brought his hard conditions upon himself by forsaking his father and leaving him? Isn't it clearly unreasonable for the son to think this is his father's fault?

Isn’t that exactly what we do when we blame God for the mess we got ourselves into through our sin?

The truth of the matter is God is unfair; he gives us infinitely more than we deserve. “While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). We don’t deserve salvation. We don’t deserve anything at all from God. Yet he makes us an offer so generous and loving. He pays a price for us and asks nothing in return other than that we simply accept it.

God is unspeakably unfair. He has to be; otherwise we could have no hope at all.

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