It is unreasonable to expect life to be fair. Events such as natural disasters and sicknesses happen without any moral judgments attached to them. They just happen as a result of processes that have nothing to do with whether or not the victims lead a moral life. Although we humans would like life to be fair, as in only bad things happen to bad people, real life shows us that fairness has very little to do with how the universe works.
The late Carl Sagan referred to human beings as “significance junkies.” We look for patterns in order to help us make sense of a very chaotic world. Our brains have made some short cuts in logic in order to help us survive. One of those logical shortcuts is that every event has a cause and these causes have meanings behind them.
For example, our ancestors believed that people got sick because they displeased the spirits or gods. In one way, this made good sense, especially since our ancestors lacked the tools and the leisure time to examine things like hygiene, viruses or bacterial infections. And, by trying to leave good lives, not only were they trying to avoid getting sick, but helped be a nice person in their tribe or community.
The Story of Job
There is some historical evidence, still controversial, that one of the oldest stories in the Bible is the Book of Job. In it, very bad things happen to a very good man because God wanted to win a wager with Satan. So God kills all of Job’s children, livestock, burns the possessions and covers Job in painful festering sores. Job’s friends tell Job that he must have deserved his tribulations and to repent.
After the friends leave, God talks to Job. He states that He has a master plan that is beyond the scope of human intelligence. Rabbi Kushner, in his best-selling “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” (Random House; 1981) concludes that God is not omnipotent and so cannot stop problems from happening to good people. In other words – God set up the world so that life would not be fair for a reason that we do not yet know.
In some ways, the Book of Job is a very comforting idea. It gives a reassurance somehow in the distant future things will be fair. Viktor Frankl even used a version of this to help him through his time at two Nazi concentration camps. He had to find a meaning for his suffering – no matter how illogical. His meaning was to survive and write a book about his experiences. That was his meaning. It worked for him.
But now we do have the tools and a vast library of knowledge to see how things like natural disasters, illnesses and Nazis work. Fairness has nothing to do with it. God has nothing to do with it. There is no evidence that a God or an afterlife exists. But there is evidence of how tectonic plates work, how the weather works and how diseases spread. As the Biblical saying goes, it rains on both the just and the unjut alike, and no amount of morals or hope will keep you dry is a flood.
Although many people find comfort in the thought that life, or an afterlife, will be fair, it is unreasonable to go through life expecting life to be fair because of the ample amount of evidence that it is not.
“The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.” Carl Sagan. Ballantine Books; 1996.
“When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” Rabbi Harold Kushner. Random House; 1981.
“Man’s Search for Meaning.” Viktor Frankl. Various Publishers; 1946.