By Terry Magee
How would you respond if you thought you had won a contest, only to have victory taken from you and given to the opponent? This challenge faced the 1972 U.S. men’s basketball team at the Olympics.
The United States had won every gold medal, usually quite handily, ever since basketball became an Olympic sport. But in 1972, the Soviet Union brought a talented, mature team. The United States and Soviet Union battled back and forth in the final game with neither team asserting control over the other. Then finally, with just a few seconds left, the U.S. took the lead.
The Soviet Union inbounded the ball, never took a shot, and the buzzer sounded, giving the United States the victory and the Olympic gold medal!
Until the officials put time back on the clock for an unknown reason. The Soviet Union inbounded the ball, the buzzer sounded, and again the U.S. thought it had won the game.
Then the officials put time on the clock again, and this third time the Soviet Union finally scored, giving them a one-point victory. Resulting protests over the multiple resets of the clock were voted down because of political affiliations and not the merit of the game. The Soviet Union was awarded the gold medal and the U.S. the silver medal.
Because they felt they had been robbed of the victory, the United States team refused to accept the medals, feeling that receiving the medals would legitimize what they saw as an unfair contest. The medals were placed in storage at the Olympic headquarters, available to the team members. They remain unclaimed to this day.
When Life Is Unfair
In this sin-marred world, unfairness occurs with depressing regularity, and not just in the sports arena. Promotions and raises are given out to office favorites, or we can be victimized by people sabotaging us in community groups. Sometimes we are just in the way of an ambitious person and become collateral damage to his selfish drive.
Solomon spoke to this truth in Ecclesiastes 9:11: “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.” Sometimes reality appears to show no correlation between effort and reward. Success or good favor feels more random than resulting from discipline and effort. On particularly bad days, we can believe our success was taken from us and handed to someone else, just like the 1972 Olympic basketball team.
How should Christians respond when life seems unfair? What is our response when we know something unfair has been deliberately done to us?
Scripture, as always, provides principles with which to live our lives. We can follow three clear principles to remove us from the immediate hurt of unfair treatment and allow God to renew our minds.
Adopt the attitude of Christ.
Jesus faced unfair treatment throughout his entire ministry. From false accusations of blasphemy to character assassination of being called a demon to the Jewish laws broken when he was arrested, tried, and crucified, Jesus faced continual and deliberate unfair attacks. How did he respond?
First, Jesus always presented the truth. He never lied to or misled others about his person or mission. His opponents may not have liked his message, but they could not accuse Jesus of issuing contradictory statements.
Second, Jesus stuck to Scripture. He always focused on a solid interpretation, even correcting his accusers when they had twisted Scripture. He knew the Scripture and how its principles related to life.
Third, Jesus knew when to resist and when to submit. The same Messiah who drove moneylenders out of the temple stood silently as false accusations were hurled at him after his arrest. Jesus kept to his mission, and even though his experience included unfair treatment, Jesus refused to allow any human sense of justice interfere with God’s plan.
Look to future justice.
The world is unfair. Sin reigns, and all too often even good intentions are clouded and mixed with sinful desires. Humans have sought to dominate fellow humans at least since the Tower of Babel, and humans have resented the success of fellow humans as far back as Cain and Abel.
We know that God is a God of justice, but when under unfair attack, we want his justice now. We groan under the stress, much as the ancient Israelites groaned under the foot of the Egyptians, and we long for a day of deliverance.
God has promised that day—a day when “I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1). Because God is just, he will one day set all things right. Because God is compassionate and loving, he will care for his people and right wrongs. But because God is also patient, he will allow ample time for all to repent of their sins. God’s timing to bring justice may not line up with our desired timing, especially when we are under extreme duress. Since God is a God who keeps his promises, we can be confident that a future day of justice and righteousness will come.
We must approach this future day of justice with extreme humility. Our viewpoints and judgments are distorted by sin during this present age. As we seek justice for ourselves, we must also remember that in our sin we have done harm to others. God will bring justice for all people, and he judges with a sure eye. As we look forward to a future time when we experience God’s justice for the wrongs done to us, let us also maintain an attitude of repentance for the wrongs we have committed against others.
Look to eternity.
While it can be easy to get caught up in present-day struggles, we must always remember that God built us for eternity, not just the present time we have on earth. Our bodies will age and eventually break down, we will die, and then enter into God’s presence for eternity. Our perishable and sin-corrupted bodies will be replaced with imperishable ones, and we will be in fellowship with God forever.
Even this sin-stained world will one day pass away and be replaced with a new Heaven and a new earth. God will restore all things to their original state, free of corruption and sin. Injustice and unfairness will be a thing of the past, and the pain and harm of past events will be washed away, and God will dry every tear so that even the sorrow of past events will be gone.
Because of our future destiny, any current unfairness or attacks are only temporary. They will pass away with the rest of the earth at the end of this age. That truth does not diminish the pain of current attacks but helps us keep God’s perspective while living life today.
Maintaining an Olympic Perspective
The modern Olympics were started to foster international goodwill through spirited but honest competition in sporting events. Like all human endeavors, it has been marred by sin and corruption, with the 1972 United States men’s basketball team being just one prominent example of many. But falling short of an ideal is an indictment of those who fail, not the ideal itself.
We experience the same failure in our daily lives when we seek to follow Christ yet keep falling into our own sin. We fight daily against what seems to be unfair while sometimes being the one dishing out unfairness to others. We are hopelessly flawed, with our best efforts continually falling short of God’s standard.
But some day we will enjoy an eternity ruled by a just God. The 1972 men’s basketball team never found the justice they sought, and even 40 years later did not accept the defeat as legitimate nor did they accept their silver medals. They may go to their graves never finding the justice they felt they deserved.
We may find the same to be true in our lives. We may never find justice in this world. But since we serve an eternal and sovereign God, we know that one day he will establish justice over all creation. One day we will see God’s ideals realized in our lives and everywhere. One day God will rule and reign, and it will be very good. And very just.
Terry Magee lives with his wife in Pennsylvania where he teaches at his church and seeks to better practice walking with God.