Goldfish and iPhones

Children have a keen sense for fairness. Around our home it is observed most often with food. For example, when I dole-out goldfish crackers my children instinctively compare their pile with that of a sibling. They count, glance-up at me and communicate (verbally and non-verbally), “I have less. This isn’t fair. What gives?” I respond with a shrug, a cynical but pleasant grin, and return my own non-verbal of, “I know what you’re thinking. And no matter how many crackers you have, I still love you. But please, for the sake of my sanity and world peace, just eat your little crackers.”
In my frustration of cracker counting I find that I also desire fairness. I like my share. I’ll vote for fair and equal when it comes to power tools, cars, lawnmowers, vacations and gadgets. It’s funny how my cell phone became “old” with the release of the new iPhone. Suddenly it’s not fair that I’m stuck with a clunky “old” phone from 2010.
The desire for fairness is often selfishness in disguise. It’s influenced by our broken human nature that has a bent toward entitlement. We all think we deserve something.
This week our family had a conversation about this verse: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) I asked my kids what they thought of these words from Jeremiah. I wanted to gauge their expectations of God as they relate to fairness, entitlement and the struggles of life. We quickly acknowledged that God has plans for us. Then we explored God’s goodness. We cracked open the prosperity gospel nut. We took turns defining prosperity – from our perspective, and God’s.
It’s interesting to contrast prosperity and fairness. Can God really promise hope and prosperity while blending struggle into our lives? And, can He tell us to welcome those struggles – to the point that we should enjoy them (James 1:2-4)? What’s God up to? Where did my goldfish go? I really need an iPhone. This isn’t fair!
Even with an iPhone, life can really stink. Does that mean it’s unfair? Well, no. We should already know that, but somewhere inside the fairness fires keep burning. Have you ever expected God to treat you well because you’ve done something good for Him? You know, a back scratch for a back scratch. Fair and equal treatment. Well, we can scratch all we want but our cries for iPhones and goldfish might go unfulfilled. God is just, but he is not a spiritual Sugar Daddy. Instead He is a caring Father. And rather than grant our wishes for fairness He brings us pain: a lost job, illness, a wayward child, a strained relationship, chronic disappointment, unmet expectations. Seems like a strange way to bring a prosperous, hope-filled future, don’t you think?
The truth about the junk of life is that in our troubles is the strong but gentle presence of a God who is there. A God who stills us. Comforts us. Listens. Loves. A God who prospers us through relationship. The promise of Jeremiah 29:11 is alive, and while we wait for a full dose of relational prosperity, God’s blessings flow through the severe mercies of struggle.
In his book Tempted and Tried, Russell Moore said, “Don’t pray for an end to the struggle. Pray for your warfare to be more effective as you dodge fiery darts on the way into the kingdom.” Life is a battle. Truth vs. Lie. Good vs. Evil. We might grouse about our pile of goldfish crackers. Life may not seem fair. But in every struggle is an opportunity to be grateful that God doesn’t treat us like we deserve. He isn’t fair that way. Aren’t you glad?