Life's Unfair & Bitterness Makes it Worse

Bitterness Serves No Good Purpose

Posted Oct 23, 2013

Dealing with divorce and illness for so many years has sensitized me to the concept of fair.

  • Your ex-husband is a capable narcissist and has convinced everyone that he’s the victim while squirreling away hidden money. 
  • Your ex-wife has poisoned the children against you while relentlessly demanding more money.
  • Your ex now has a new partner, and you’re miserable.
  • You get divorced and the legal bill is bigger than your savings.


  • You are over your divorce and then you get really sick.
  • You have been taking good care of yourself and develop breast cancer.
  • You have recurrent depression that feels like a huge disability.
  • Your child was just hit by a drunken driver.

Divorce brings the topic of what’s fair and what’s not into acute focus. This is because you loved and lost. There are children to raise and money to be split. And each of you will be starting a new life, while juggling the remnants of the old one. If you were brought up with a strong sense of fair and unfair, there’s a good chance it all feels frightfully wrong.

Illness and trauma also brings the topic of what’s fair into focus because it can be so random. Yes, some of us develop diseases that are self inflicted, but who shall live and who shall die remains a largely unpredictable phenomenon. 

A Religious Response to Injustice:

We have important religious traditions, like Christianity with its faith in heaven and hell or Judaism with its belief in a God of justice, that reinforce the notion that things make sense—even when they don’t. To me, these ideas are suspiciously gratifying. So suspicious, that I tend to see them as ways to rationalize a scary and impersonal world. Religion has value, but too much faith may not be a good answer.

A Spiritual Response to Injustice:

Yet, if you look deeper, our great traditions are not satisfied with a simplistic point of view. Take a look at the canonized Books of Job and Ecclesiastes, which are ancient texts that deal with the nature of injustice in this world. This is not your kindergarten type of religion. These great books provide answers to what’s fair and what’s not; but it may not be satisfying to all.

Job and Ecclesiastes may have been written long ago, but they’re like modern texts to me.

In The Book of Job, a good man has everything taken from him, almost on a whim. Job’s so called friends pull out all the ecclesiastical stops. They try to convince Job that he did something terribly wrong to lose his family and fortune. After all, the God above is fair, isn’t he? But later in the text, when Job gets his moment to confront God, he is summarily corrected. In this great book of theology, God does not defend what happened to Job in the terms of right and wrong that we normally understand.

He puts Job into place. (And, us as well.)

  • “Were you around when I laid the foundations of the world?”

The answer of course is no. Real justice, with its right and wrong on the largest scale is only understood by God. We humans have courts to right the wrongs (often inadequately) here on earth, but ultimate justice is beyond our comprehension.

The Book of Ecclesiastes is attributed to King Solomon who tells us that life just happens and even he, with all his learning cannot fathom it. 

  • “I said to myself, ‘Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge. Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.”

Or, to continue Solomon’s musings:

  • “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

Just a season—not a reason—because so much in life just happens.

Fair – A Four Letter Word:

Is there ultimate fairness, on a micro basis, involving two divorcing people who have hurt each other? No; in many divorces fair is hard to come by. But forgiveness, healing, learning and moving on stronger because of what you have gone through is possible.

Is there fairness in developing an illness or experiencing a trauma? I say no.

Yet, there are many who disagree. We have a powerful culture today that implies karma-like payback.

This kind of thinking is troublesome, because it comes down to blaming the victim; which is a version of kindergarten style religion. You are good, you get good. You are bad, you get bad. Solomon put that argument to rest three thousand years ago. But, we can believe in the power of healing. In our meditations, in our physicians, in your good will to make use of illness to inform you about what’s really important. And these points count. Ask Solomon.

Fair & Unfair – Set Yourself Free:

If you are comforted by a religion that provides reward in heaven, please feel free to believe. If you believe that bad things happen because people somehow deserve it, then I hope you find a resolution that moves you forward with optimism and confidence.

But, if you are like me, these answers fall flat in face of pain. We don’t get to know the way the world works.  It’s too confusing for most of us. But, there is a religion to believe in; one of human insight and dignity that is committed to making a better future from the broken pieces of the past. It’s a religion that has us acting as partners to God (whatever your concept may be), and not just as children looking for protection.

It’s a religion that acknowledges that bad things often happen to good people.

Holding onto bitterness will hurt you. And, like Solomon and Job, you may have to accept that it won’t do you any good. But, I know one thing. Living with a sense of injustice or unfairness hurts the soul.  It carves out a place in you that won’t allow healing. It has to go.

It is so much easier to move on when you come to terms with the apparent lack of fairness in life. Strive to make the world a better place. Make your case to a judge or to your clergy or fight your illness with everything you’ve got.

Make the world as fair as you can. It is a human project of the highest order.

But let go of the notion that life MUST be fair. It’s asking too much of a four letter word.

Set yourself free. 


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