Chapter 7 – Is The Test Fair?
Standardized public school tests are often the subject of much debate. Since there are disparities in the quality of school systems using the tests, the results do not always reflect a student’s potential. Socio-economic factors also impact the ability students have to prepare for college entrance exams. This doesn’t mean it is wrong for anyone to take advantage of every opportunity available that might lead to greater success. However, these realities remind us true equality is not easy, if not impossible to achieve.
On school test days I sat at my desk with a computer sheet and my #2 pencils before me, wondering why some students, whom I considered my equals, always seemed to score better. I’ll confess my study habits weren’t perfect. Alright, so they were atrocious! But through my misguided filters it appeared God had unfairly gifted some people in the art of testing. I also suspected a possible conspiracy whereby favored students were given inside information because they had been secretly chosen by administrators to succeed.
Such are the fantasies of a young boy who, as his teachers used to write on his report card, “doesn’t live up to his potential.” Yet, even today I sense there was some truth, however, thin, to my perceptions.
Alright, I concede there was probably not a conspiracy. I say “probably” because there is always a possibility secret files might be found someday vindicating me for my poor performance.
If pressed, most of us would admit we are frequently troubled by two spiritual topics: The painful circumstances God permits in our lives, and His timing. Perhaps you are more familiar with these subjects in their simple question format: “Why me and why now?”
When I share with those who are suffering through a personal trial or loss, we eventually find our way to one or both of these two inquiries. I am often amazed when I see the strength with which people process disease, disaster and death. They accept these as a part of life, but it still troubles them when suffering occurs in disproportionate or untimely ways. If the test is fair, then shouldn’t we all suffer equally and be given the same adequate time to heal before our next trial comes along? And if God is in charge, couldn’t He do a little better job administrating our circumstances so our portions of pain are more evenly distributed?
Those who struggle with these questions raise some valid points in the interest of divine justice. When it comes to equality Jesus did say His Father causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). And if there is a providential bias it clearly favors those who try to honor God with their lives. David established this principle when he wrote, “He will never let the righteous fall”? (Psalm 55:22). On the subject of timing, Moses once claimed we are given seventy years of life, and possibly eighty if we receive an extra dispensation of strength (Psalm 90:10). Should we not conclude, then, that any death short of this allotment is untimely?
The collective cry of hundreds of conversations I have had with hurting people goes something like this: “If God is good, then how can He allow faithful servants to suffer, and why doesn’t He reward all of them with a reasonably long life?” Some have answered their cries by criticizing the sufferer. They argue God is not unfair, but rather limited by our lack of faith. If we only believed enough He protect us from harm and preserve our lives for the stated “three score and ten” and perhaps twenty. After all, the Apostle Paul did say “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28).
This approach so often compounds the pain of the sufferer as inflicts immeasurable guilt on a heart that is already shattered. Then whose fault is it our tests have been skewed? Has God abandoned us, or have we abandoned God? And what must we do to make things right? It is possible to throw out our score and take the test again?
We will try to make sense of this quandary later. But for now it is only right for me to share my personal position on the question of fairness. I suspect you already know: the test is “not” intended to be fair.
Our parents warned us “Life isn’t fair.” But it is important to realize this truth is not the result of a universe out of control, or a God who doesn’t care. Rather, it is a result God’s purposeful design. He has given mankind a free will and permitted the dreadful consequence of sin to exist alongside His goodness. One day He will separate the good from the bad and make things fair, but for now this is our reality. Inequality is characteristics in a fallen world.
Does this bother you? Are you upset by the suggestion God could make things better if He wanted to, but has decided not to so we have a free choice? While disturbing, I personally prefer this arrangement over the alternatives that God can’t help us, or doesn’t exist at all.
I return to my disparity reference for one additional perspective. It is our moral duty to provide a quality education for every child in our society, and to nurture a culture where everyone has an opportunity to pursue his or her dreams. But I do not assume for a moment we will ever do this perfectly. There will be budget restraints and failed policies among educators. Children will come to the classroom with different abilities, and some will be seriously impaired by poor training at home or difficult circumstances over which they have no control. And while I have the greatest respect for teachers, some are more talented than others, and even the most gifted face personal struggles that can make them ineffective for a season.
People of all ages and in all walks of life speak of working with the “hand they are dealt.” While I don’t subscribe to this fatalistic description of the human condition, it is an accurate expression of our response, and admission of life’s inequality.
God still moves in our lives and bring clarity and direction in spite of sin. But as we move on in our discussion I must challenge you to set aside any notion that anyone’s spiritual journey will be fair. If we allow ourselves to get stuck in this false precept, we may never find our way back to the truths that have the power to save us.