When Life Is Unfair treats in a personal (borrowing from the author’s own experiences) and practical way the often-asked question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” After reading this little book last year I did some research on the author and learned that he had died the month before at age 85. He was an amazing man. Besides earning a PhD from Northwestern University, teaching at Wheaton College early in his ministry, and working for years at Zondervan Academic Publishing, he was the author of more than 200 works! He was also the general editor of Adventure Bible and the co-general editor with his wife Sue for the Teen Study Bible.
The 155 page book book I’m reviewing today is a fast read. It’s simple, but not simplistic. It actually treats some deep biblical truths, but not in a dry theological way. One primary reason this volume can be read so quickly is that Richards is a master storyteller. For some examples of this skill, check out his story of King David’s wife Michal, or his story of 21 year old Cheryl Thomas viciously attacked at Florida State University by the mass murderer Ted Bundy, or his retelling of several fascinating Jewish legends from Leo Rosten’ The Joys of Yiddish. If you’re a pastor, youth director, or Sunday School teacher using these anecdotes will enrich and enliven your Bible teaching.
The other feature that makes this book so easy to read is that it is laid out in a very clear and logical (some might say predictable) format. Each chapter begins with a couple of stories, usually from real life or from the Bible. The author then weaves in some basic biblical teaching on the question being dealt with in the chapter. He concludes the chapter with a summary of the main teaching points, followed by three or four questions “for meditation or discussion.” It’s obvious that Dr. Richards knows how to write books suitable for adult or older youth Sunday School classes or small group Bible studies.
Here are the chapters and some of the main points in each one:
- Anguish within Me (“The Lord is God,” and “the Lord is good” are often called into question by the “unfairness” of life.)
- Don’t try to protect God by refusing to face reality when you feel life is “unfair”.
- Don’t expect to find totally satisfying answers.
- Don’t let your cries drown out the voice of God that He wants you to hear in the Scriptures.
- Some Time Later (Consider that perhaps the unfair things we experience in life are designed for our spiritual development.)
- When experiencing “unfair” things we learn to be more sensitive to pain.
- We learn that life is never void of hope.
- God is available when life is unfair.
- Who Will Show Us Any Good? (How can we discover the good hidden within the unfair things that happen to us?)
- Examine the personal qualities unfair experiences call forth.
- Explore the opportunities to minister that an unfair experience creates.
- Expect the experience to draw you closer to God.
- I Am Generous (Seeing money both as a blessing and a curse)
- Free yourself from the notion that wealth is of ultimate importance.
- Learn the real value of money and abandon the fantasy.
- Use God’s own criteria to measure your relationship with Him, not the world’s criteria or some church’s.
- Yours Also the Earth (God’s sovereignty and our freedom to choose)
- We are freed from the burden of blaming or excusing God for such happenings.
- We are reminded of the dreadful burden of freedom.
- We are forced to face again the mystery of pain.
- The Poor among You (thinking about poverty in our society)
- Distinguish between correctible and noncorrectible evils.
- Act as a responsible Christian citizen.
- Live as agents of God’s love.
- You Do This to Your Brothers (dealing with “not fair” experiences within the local church)
- Be sensitive to human frailties, and willing to overlook hurts.
- Be aware of God’s call for holiness, and distinguish faults which call for confrontation.
- Accept your personal responsibility to take action when confrontation is called for.
- Woe to Him (One day we will see all of life’s unfairness openly addressed by God, but what do we do in the meantime?)
- Be willing to take a stand on moral issues.
- Remain confident that God is both sovereign and active despite the unfair things that occur.
- When the Dream Dies (After going through a trial do we build a new life or resort to bitterness?)
- We must learn to keep looking for God.
- We must learn to remain vulnerable.
- We must learn to forgive and accept forgiveness.
- The Thing That I Feared (freeing yourself from fear when your heart has “convicted” God)
- Open yourself to pain
- Look for the good in your relationship with God.
- Meditate on the suffering of Christ.
- All Spiritual Blessings (How to preserve our sense of the goodness of God, even when life isn’t fair)
- Learn to recognize that many things are really annoyances rather than disasters.
- Look for bright highlights even when days are dark.
- Give priority to spiritual blessings. (Read for example the ones the apostle Paul highlights in Ephesians 1.)