January 3: The Bad Math of Deservedness

Read Ecclesiastes 8:1-17

“I deserve better than this!” “What did I do to deserve this?” “She doesn’t deserve that!” Such phrases punctuate life for most of us. They were part of Solomon’s experiences as well: “There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless” (v. 14).  That observation has caused people throughout history to experience different responses on a continuum from mild frustration to total abandonment of faith.

Of course, the key word in each of those expressions is “deserve.” “Deserve” suggests a logical, predictable, performance-based outcome. It is like an equals sign placed in a mathematical formula. The logic of “deserve” implies that your inputs on the left side of the equation merit a specific response from God on the right side of the equation. The age-old complaint, however, is that this mathematical formula doesn’t always work!

Why doesn’t this kind of math work? I suppose there are several reasons, but here are two important ones:

  1. Humans balance the equations in time while God does the math of justice over eternity. You can quickly lose sight of the fact that your rewards (and perhaps another person’s punishment) will not be fully unveiled in this life. With that in mind, you need to be patient.
  2. Human math is performance-based while God’s is grace-based. God delights at times in passing on to people things they don’t deserve . . . not the least of which is salvation itself (Eph. 2:8, 9). When we understand that, we need to throw out the “deserve equals sign.”

What was your most recent experience when you used the word “deserve”? That is a dangerous word that, at times, does not fit well with the experiences of life. It is like a bad math equality in our minds that is not always reflected in our reality. Are there some specific current situations, in which you need to go back and change your math?


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