[This article came up as a result of an inquiry made to me by brother named Ben, this write up is my response]
To your first inquiry; is God unfair?
The truth would be No! He is by nature just and fair to all. Acts 10: 34, James 1:17
Let me proceed to share with you the various concepts of God’s fairness I have for now discovered (some of the concepts overlap into each other, so read patiently and thoroughly);
God’s fairness in individualistic I.e. He is fair to people as individuals, hence God may give five different people, five different levels of blessings and yet He is perfectly fair. Take for example the story of the talents (Matt 25:15), He gave to each man according to the individuals capacity. Also you must note that the plan for God for each person is different (even though as believers we all have a common general purpose, our paths there however differs), (1 cor 9:24-26) we all run a race but each of us on different tracts with different (but common) adversaries. Hence because my tract is (for example) 1500 metres, God would give me the energy or resource fit to win such a race and may give someone else whose tract is 200 metres less resources, such a person who seeing the amount of resources I command may feel cheated because he does not see the fullness of what I am to do. Hence God is perfectly fair to both of us, I am not cheated by being born in Africa nor is another advantaged by being born in Asia, my skin colour, height, looks or preferences sets me in no way above or beneath any other person. So I must not judge myself a failure when I see my ‘mates’ advancing beyond me or judge myself a success by advancing beyond my ‘mates’, no, I must evaluate myself by ensuring I am better today than I was yesterday and I am running effectively my race.
- Purpose, Supremacy and Righteousness
God has a will and a purpose, His pattern to the accomplishment of this purpose may seem ‘unfair’ to eyes of many an uninformed man. For instance He say’s Jacob I loved, Esau I hated (I address this in the later part of this discourse). I believe it speaks less of Jacob’s lovability and Esau’s ‘hatability’ and more of God’s purpose that in the distant future, the Messiah should (and need be born) from the tribe of Judah, Judah being a son of Jacob (from a wife Jacob himself would never of his own choice have married i.e. Leah). In understanding the righteousness of God (that God does not do wrong), you must understand his unfailing purpose (the inability of His purpose to fail, it must succeed) and His rightful (as creator and owner of the earth and the entire universe) supremacy.
Speaking of His supremacy, Paul say’s; what right has the created to speak against the creator, if it is the creator’s good will to abase one of his created for his purpose and exalt another for his purpose does He not have the right? (Rom 9:20-23, paraphrased)
The abasement or exaltation of the created is not the big picture, the purpose of the creator is.
In case I’m sounding theological, humour me so (for your question is in itself theological).
- The Nature of Favour
You must realize that though God Himself is fair, favour by its nature is unfair; for it demands a not necessarily due advantage of one person or people over a situation or person(s). E.g.; A student who passes a course he feels he should have failed for lack of preparation. That student is given an advantage over the academic principles of the institution and perhaps over fellow students who may have worked harder. So a fair God may use and unfair instrument (favour) to accomplish His purpose, for His purpose stands supreme.
- The Choices we make
2 Tim 2:20 reveals that in a great house, they are many kinds of vessels, some golden, some wooden, some otherwise. It is important to note that God will judge, not based on if you are a golden or wooden vessel, but if you purged yourself (choice) and as such become a vessel unto honour. We make the choices and the outcome makes us, we chose if we will purge ourselves, then that decision determines if we should be for honour (or favour) or not, we control the choice not the consequence. If a man chooses to walk in an unholy and evil way he enters the road that leads to destruction (prov 4:14, 10:29), and has as such made himself a vessel unto dishonour but if a man chooses to walk in righteousness, he enters a road that leads to Glory (prov 4:18). The man who makes righteous choices is bound by his choice on a road that leads to God’s favour. Hence even though the righteous and unrighteous man engage in same vocation and be on the same level, God’s favour will ultimately shine on the righteous man (the man who does what is right) and this may seem unfair to people who know them to both be on the same level.
- The Revelation of God
The bigger picture is this; God has chosen to reveal Himself across the generations, through time to mankind, men of insight will note the many sides of God as their eyes are opened. God has chosen to reveal His Love, His Justice, His anger, His Mercy, His Favour, His Wisdom, His Humour and a million more of Him we do not even know. Sometimes, to reveal a side (like anger for instance) demands He has something or someone to be angry at, there is a place called ‘the wrath of God’, a man who walks in unrighteousness walks down that path and will eventually enter that place, even though it is not God’s will for any to perish (2 pet 3:9), but some people will by their choice choose to, so He uses their foolish choice to reveal to all men His wrath, and perhaps if as such a one walks to that place of wrath he hears and listens to the word or warning of God and repents, God can then use such a man to show His compassion and unfailing mercies. His purpose (to reveal Himself) is accomplished in both cases. Hence He tells us; I set before you life and death, therefore choose life (Deut 30:19, paraphrased).
It is necessary on a closing note that I make mention again of the Jacob and Esau election in Rom 9. The bible says in verse 11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;). This was a quotation from Malachi 1 by the apostle Paul and it is important to know the context of both Malachi 1 and Romans 9, else one may (as many have) think it to mean what it does not. We note certain things;
- The statement refers to the posterity (or nations) of the individuals not the individuals themselves: this is clear because Esau as a person never served Jacob, it was Jacob who was afraid of Esau and even called him Lord (Gen 32:4, 33:8,13).
- This is not a matter of personal reprobation from eternity: for, it is very certain that very many, if not the far greatest part, of Jacob’s posterity were wicked, and rejected by God; and it is not less certain that some of Esau’s posterity were partakers of the faith of their father Abraham.
- The context of Malachi is a response from God to unthankful Jews who responding to God’s love, said; where have you loved us? God had to point to them; was not Esau, Jacob’s brother (vs 2)? God speaking to the posterity of Jacob make’s this statement, because God had chosen this people His people (Israel i.e. Jacob) from all the peoples of the earth.
Adam’s Clark commentary on Rom 9:2 sheds some very bright light;
- “(mal 1:2-5)It incontestably appears from these passages that the prophet does not speak at all of the person of Jacob or Esau, but of their respective posterities. For it was not Esau in person that said, We are impoverished; neither were his mountains nor heritage laid waste. Now, if the prophet speaks neither of the person of the one nor of the person of the other, but of their posterity only, then it is evident that the apostle speaks of them in the same way.
- If neither the prophet nor the apostle speaks of the persons of Jacob or Esau, but of their posterity, then it is evident that neither the love of God to Jacob, nor the hatred of God to Esau, were such, according to which the eternal states of men, either in happiness or misery, are to be determined; nor is there here any Scriptural or rational ground for the decree of unconditional personal election and reprobation, which, comparatively, modern times have endeavoured to build on these scriptures. For, 1. It is here proved that Esau is not mentioned under any personal consideration, but only as the head of his posterity. The testimony of Scripture amply proves that all Esau’s posterity were not, even in this sense, reprobated; nor all Jacob’s posterity elected. 3. Neither does that service, or subjugation to Jacob, which the Divine oracle imposed on Esau, import any such reprobation as some contend for; as the servant may be elected, while the master himself is in a state of reprobation. 4. Were it even granted that servitude did import such a reprobation, yet it is certain that Esau, in person, never did serve Jacob. 5. Nor does the hatred of God against Esau import any such reprobation of the person of Esau, because it is demonstrable that it related, not to Esau personally, but to his posterity. 6. The scope of the apostle’s reasoning is to show that God is the sovereign of his own ways, has a right to dispense his blessings as he chooses, and to give salvation to mankind, not in the ways of their devising, but in that way that is most suitable to his infinite wisdom and goodness.
Therefore, 1. He chose the Jewish people from all others, and revealed himself to them. Thus they were the elect, and all the nations of mankind reprobate. 2. When the fullness of the time came he revealed himself also to the Gentiles, who gladly received the Gospel: and the Jews rejecting it, were cast off. Thus the elect became reprobate, and the reprobate, elect. 3. He published to all mankind that the pardon of sin could and should be obtained ONLY by faith in his Son Jesus, and not by any obedience to any law. And the Jews, the descendants of Jacob, who rejected this way of salvation, became precisely like the Edomites, the descendants of Esau; they builded, but God pulled down; their mountains and heritage are NOW laid waste for the dragons of the wilderness; and they properly may now be called the border of wickedness, a people against whom the Lord hath indignation for ever: they have rejected the Lord that bought them, and so have brought upon themselves swift destruction. 7. That no personal, absolute, eternal reprobation of Esau can have been intended, we learn from this; that he was most amply reconciled to his brother, who had so deeply wronged and offended him, by depriving him of his birthright and his blessing: and his having forgiven his brother his trespasses, was no mean proof that God had forgiven him. See our Lord’s words, Mt 6:14. Therefore there can be assigned no competent ground of his damnation, much less of his personal reprobation from all eternity. 8. And were such a personal reprobation intended, is it not shocking to suppose that the God of endless mercy, in whose sight his pious parents had found favour, should inform them, even before their child was born, that he had absolutely consigned him, by an irrevocable decree to eternal damnation? A message of such horrid import coming immediately from the mouth of God, to a tender, weak, and delicate woman, whose hour of travail with two children was just at hand, could not have failed to produce abortion, and destroy her life. But the parents perfectly understood their God, and saw no decree of reprobation in his message; two manner of nations are in thy womb-and the elder shall serve the younger.
- There is no reason, worthy the most wise and gracious God, why he should make known to the world such a thing concerning Esau, who was yet unborn, that he had reprobated him from all eternity. Such a revelation could be of no spiritual advantage or edification to mankind, but rather of a malignant influence, as directly occasioning men to judge hardly of their Maker, and to conceive of him as no faithful Creator; as having no care, no love, no bowels of compassion towards the workmanship of his own hands.”
[Adam Clarkes Commentary, Power BibleCD vs2.5]
Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated can more clearly be seen; Jacob have I chosen, Esau have I refused, Israel I have chosen as my special people from which the Christ would be born, the rest of the earth I have in my sovereignty refused. God needed a womb for Jesus to be carried; He sovereignly chose Mary, God needed a family for Jesus to be raised; He sovereignly chose Joseph’s, God needed a tribe for Jesus to be identified with, He sovereignly chose Judah, God needed a nation for Jesus to come from; He sovereignly chose Israel. He by choosing one rejected all others.
I believe strongly in this interpretation of scripture because it resonates with all other scriptures and with the nature of God as revealed in scripture; for it was always God’s will to reconcile the whole world back to Himself (Gen 22:18), for His love is upon the whole world (John 3:16), for this purpose came Jesus (1 John 3:8), for all who believe (Acts 10:43, 1 John 5:1).
Rom 8:29; for whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son (KJV).
Rom 8:29; because those of whom he had knowledge before they came into existence, were marked out by him to be made like his Son (BBE)
Simple question; who did God know before they came into existence? Simple answer; everybody! His Omniscience demands it so, His creative power confirms it so (John 1:3) and therefore, we (every human) were predestined (purposed) to be conformed to the image of His son.
God is righteous, our definition of righteousness is based on God, and in Him is no unrighteousness (psalm 92:15).
I have written extensively for I believe, since you are zealous enough to ask I should be zealous enough to answer knowledgeably (and you should be zealous enough to search the things I have written thoroughly).