“The way of the Lord is unfair.”
How often have we thought this? The demands of a righteous life are difficult, and often can make us feel completely overburdened. We may know what the “good” thing to do in any given moment is, but it just feels almost impossible to actually do. Or perhaps we can’t even distinguish the good choice from the bad—they seem to both be shades of gray. So if choosing the wicked thing is what causes us to die, surely this must be unfair! We don’t even know what good is! How could we possibly choose the good?
This passage repeatedly uses the phrase “turn away.” We must “turn away” from our sins, we must not “turn away” from our righteousness and commit iniquity. This turning implies that we are to undergo some manner of transformation. We are transformed into that which is capable of being righteous, and so long as we do not turn away, we will have life. But that’s not to say we will never sin. This turning is a transformation of the heart, a change in our disposition toward what is good and what is evil. We are turned, passively speaking, by the grace of God, and that enables us to recognize the good for what it is. But we also turn ourselves, actively speaking, by cooperating with that grace and actually choosing the good. We may fail from time to time, but because we have allowed God to work in our lives (passively), we are able to see that failure for the evil that it is, and we are able to repent of it (actively). One who has not turned away from sin, one who has not allowed God to transform his heart, will not see that. He will be lost in shades of gray, or perhaps even be so fallen as to see the good as evil, and the evil as good. And because of that, because he has turned himself away from God’s grace, he will die.
So is it truly unfair? God extends His grace freely. He makes that offer to transform our lives. He makes us capable of responding in the affirmative. All we need to do is cooperate, to accept that transformation of the heart and turn away from sin. This is not an unfair dynamic. Indeed, the unfairness is on our end, not His! “Is it not your ways that are unfair?” We don’t deserve His grace. We don’t deserve His offer of salvation. It is far from fair that we should have this chance. But He extends the offer anyway, and welcomes us with open arms.