Overcoming the Past – Lesson 6: When Life Isn’t Fair

Key Scriptures: Genesis 38-41, Hebrews 6:10, Matthew 20:16, Galatians 3:28, Romans 2:11, Matthew 20:1-16, Ephesians 6:9, Acts 10:34, Matthew 25:14-30, Matthew 5:45, John 3:16

Guiding Question: How can we overcome the past when what happened wasn’t fair?

Optional Introductory Activity: Before class make or purchase treats that will be exciting to everyone in your class OR if you have a little extra money, buy every student a gift card to a fast food restaurant or coffee shop for each student. All but one gift card should have $1 on it, with one gift card having $5-10 on it. (Keep track of which one has the extra money if you do gift cards. 

As students enter the class, pick one at random who will be your favorite. Make sure your justification for choosing the student is silly like basing it on the exact time he or she entered the room. As students enter the room, do everything you can to display obvious favoritism to the chosen student. When class begins, give several of the treats or the gift card with the most money to the designated favorite. Don’t give anything to anyone else.  

Ask students how the favored student must feel. How would they feel if every time they came to class, you continued to favor the chosen person? What if you also ignored the other students? What if you were mean to the other students?

Lesson: (Questions to students are in bold italics.) We all probably understand life isn’t fair. In your opinion, should life be fair? Why or why not? We don’t really understand why, but there is a part of almost everyone that believes life should be fair. Bad things should only happen to “bad” people and good things should only happen to “good” people. In fact, some people get very angry at others or even at God when life isn’t fair to them or someone they love. So what does God consider “fair” and how does He want us to react when life isn’t fair to us?

Tell students the story of Joseph found in Genesis 38 – 41. Stop right before Joseph is rescued from jail to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. Who in this story would claim life hasn’t been fair to them? What would be the reasons they gave? Probably everyone in the story could make a case that life hasn’t treated them fairly. (If students left out someone, have them go back and find a way that person could claim life hasn’t been fair to them.) The truth is that for most people what seems fair to them is often decided from their personal point of view. That viewpoint may or may not reflect God’s definition of fairness or how He feels about it.

When we begin talking about fairness and God, we have to consider what God’s ultimate goal is for us. Having equal access to achieving that goal would be the ultimate definition of fairness. Read John 3:16. What is God’s ultimate goal for each and every person that will ever live? God’s primary goal is for us to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. 

In fact God even promises something that the New Testament writers shared multiple times. Read Romans 2:11, Acts 10:3, Ephesians 6:9 and Galatians 3:28. Did God prefer some people over others in His willingness to send Jesus to die on the Cross for their sins? Ultimately, God has made it possible for everyone to accept that gift and the hope of eternal life. He doesn’t care what you look like, how much money or power you have or how smart you are. Anyone is eligible.

On the other hand, God lets us know over and over again that because we live in a fallen world, the things that happen on Earth are not going to be fair. In fact, the book of Job is the devil claiming that Job is only faithful to God because He has blessed Job abundantly. According to Satan, if God made Job’s life miserable, Job would quickly reject God. Much of the book is Job’s struggle to remain faithful in a world that seemed incredibly unfair.

If life were suddenly fair, how might things for Joseph have been different at various points in the story? Why do you think Joseph didn’t reject God in spite of all of the problems he faced? Read Matthew 5:45. What does Jesus say about God and how He deals fairly with people on Earth? Jesus points out that people who do evil and people who do good both get the advantages of sunshine and rain. 

On the other hand, both groups can have their fair share of painful times, too. Read 2 Corinthians 11:16-33. As Paul went around the world doing what God wanted him to do, what bad things happened to him? Was Paul complaining in this passage that God wasn’t being fair to him? What was Paul’s point in sharing this list of trials? Paul didn’t expect nothing bad would ever happen to him because he was obeying God. In fact, he and the other New Testament writers expected bad things to happen to them. Why? Because they knew if in a fallen world, Jesus could die a horrible death, who were they to assume they deserved anything better?

God also admits He gives more gifts to some people than others. His focus on not what talents and blessings we have from Him, but whether or not we are grateful and how we use those blessings – to be selfish or selfless. Review the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. Does God give an explanation or justification for why one person received more or less talents initially than the others? Where is God’s focus in the parable when the man returns from his trip? Why do you think the results are more important to God than what He gave them at the beginning of the parable?

Read Hebrews 6:10. What does this verse tell us about how God will deal fairly with us in the end? On what types of things will God base this fair judgment? God is a fair and just judge. On the Day of Judgement, He will judge each of us based on our sins (which have been erased for Christians) and our good deeds as well. Not that those deeds can earn us our salvation, but that they reflect our love for Him.

There is one last way God is fair. Read Matthew 20:1-16. Why did the workers who worked the entire day feel the boss was being unfair? What was his justification for paying everyone the same wages? How does this parable apply to Judgement Day? The boss claimed that as the boss only he was able to decide what was a fair wage for each person who worked for him. In the same way, God will allow the Christian into Heaven who was baptized 30 seconds before he or she died as well as the Christian who has lived a Christian life for decades. We might think it isn’t fair (or try to game the system and become a Christian Right before we die – as if we will know for sure when that will be), but ultimately God is the one who will decide who does or does not spend eternity with Him in Heaven.

That’s a lot of information about God and fairness to process! How would you explain how God views fairness to someone who is confused about the topic?

Skills Activity: Review the main points of the lesson. Explain to students that one of the big problems faced when life isn’t fair begins in our brains. Brain science has found that when we are feeling strong emotions when something happens, it is as if our brain takes a movie of the moment and Sears it into our memory. It’s why people can often tell you minute details about their wedding day or the birth of their children decades after the event.

Unfortunately, the same thing happens with bad memories – the types of things that happen that seem incredibly unfair. What’s even worse is that because we are often hurt and angry, we start replaying the events over and over again in our heads. Often we tell the story of what happened over and over again. Each time, we feel those strong negative emotions and that memory gets even stronger in our minds. For some people, their entire life begins to be defined by that horribly unfair moment. They become frozen in time, unable to look forward because they are always looking back. Unable to grow, because they are too busy reliving the past. It’s called a victim mindset and it’s something God wants us to avoid, because we can’t reach our full godly potential if we become stuck in the past.

It’s important to understand avoiding a victim mindset doesn’t mean what happened to you wasn’t horrible. It doesn’t mean you somehow deserved the bad things that happened to you. What it does mean is that you understand it is in the past and can only continue to negatively impact your future if you allow it to do so. With God’s help you can overcome ANYTHING that happened in your past and move forward to the future with the good deeds God has planned for you to do.

It’s also important to understand that a victim mindset doesn’t just have to be from a negative event that happened to you. You can also develop a victim mindset merely because you think life hasn’t been fair to you – that you deserve more blessings than you have been giving. You can develop a victim mindset because you grew up poor or because you grew up rich. Just like in the story of Joseph, anyone can develop a victim mindset.

Spend the remainder of the time helping students develop a plan to avoid or recover from a victim mindset. How much time is spent on this activity will depend, in large part, on whether or not this is something with which your students already struggle. It’s important to make sure and include helpful scriptures students can reflect upon and memorize, helpful thoughts and attitudes as well as helpful concrete actions they can take.

Here are some of things you may want to make sure are included in the discussion. 

  • Pray for God’s help in forgiving and moving past the events or issues
  • Reflect upon and memorize key verses that will remind you of the attitudes and actions God wants you to have
  • Realize that you can choose to accept the reality of what happened and/or take steps to extricate yourself from the situation
  • Discuss what happened only with people who have your best interests at heart and will help you make godly choices. 
  • Don’t over share your story. Learn to differentiate between when telling your story again is helping or hurting you.
  • Forgive those who hurt you
  • Begin “forgetting” what happened by refusing to dwell on it and distracting yourself with godly activities and serving others. 
  • If you realize you are replaying the negative events in your mind, say the word “Stop” and force yourself to think about something else instead
  • Was there anything important you learned from the situation that can help you avoid future problems? If so, embrace it as an unintended gift from the person who hurt you
  • Pray for those who hurt you and provide them with help if they need it

If the bulk of your students are already developing a victim mindset, spend some time discussing how they can put these steps into practice in their situation. Be respectful of the privacy of those who don’t want to share specifics of the issue. If only one or two students struggle, you may want to meet with them privately outside of class to help them work through the steps. Mentors can also be helpful for some students who are finding these sessions are not enough help.

Application Challenge: Review the scriptures from the lesson. Is there an incident or issue that has tempted you to develop a victim mindset? What is it? Review the steps from the Skills Activity and find practical ways to begin implementing them in your life.

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