“Sometimes you step off the kerb, and get knocked down by a bus”. These were the parting words of the former BP chief executive Tony Hayward as he left the company where he had spent his entire career. Commenting on this unfortunate departure, his successor Bob Dudley added, “Whether it is fair or not is not the point. The fact is that life isn’t fair. We all know that”. The grieving families, the local tradesmen, the environmentalists and creation itself know that. They have all been hit by a bus.
There is indeed something very random about life. While we would love to discover a sense of orderliness and coherence, life seems pretty incoherent and chaotic at times. The connection between our actions and the results appear to be missing. At times, we may conclude, like the author of Ecclesiastes, that everything has lost meaning (1:2). This is not a blunt, cynical, response to the crisis created when he recognised life’s vanity and inequity. Rather, it is a valuable contemplation of a mature thinker.
Life isn’t fair. This is a bitter reality in the human experience. The apostle Paul portrays the struggle in this world and in the Christian community in Romans 8. Creation is groaning and so are the people of God. Life is tough. We all know that. But Paul also knows something beyond this common knowledge. Following his reflections on life’s suffering, groaning, and inherent weakness, he adds a subsequent “we know that…”.
“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (8:28). And here is where the Christian experience and knowledge become distinctive. Like the BP executives we know that life is not fair. But the Christian carries a conviction that such common knowledge of life is superseded by a greater truth of heaven.
In his letters, Paul uses the phrase “we know that” to introduce commonly recognised truth. The idea that “all things work for good” has parallels in philosophical and Jewish literature. Joseph’s story is a classic example that God uses suffering for his overruling purposes. Joseph stepped off the proverbial kerb and was knocked down by his brothers who sold him to merchants on their way to
. Life takes us on surprising trajectories. While Joseph knows that life isn’t fair, he also knows the transformative capacity of a just and purposeful God. While his brothers intended to harm him, God intended it for good: “to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). Egypt
“All things work together for good” literally refers to “all things”. When life is neither good nor fair, we have a person to turn to. We have a rich body of literature that resonates with, and gives expression to, our laments. We have an advocate who appeals for us and we can make our own appeal to the one who can restore and redeem. And so we know that the painful contractions in life are placed within God’s overarching purpose.
Marijke Hoek, Coordinator Forum for Change