Life’s not fair. That’s what most children are taught at an early age. They fight, and one gets punished more than the other. Or some delicious dessert is served, and one thinks the other got more. “It’s not fair,” they protest. “Life’s not fair,” adults often respond.Now we probably don’t mean to teach children to accept unfairness or injustice. We just mean to prepare them for a world where justice is not delivered on their terms. Is it right for one child to take more than the other? No. Is it worth screaming about? No.In today’s first reading, we’re encouraged to “Turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving.” Now, mercy is a wonderful thing. But if you are looking for a universe ruled by fairness, it might not qualify. Mercy means we are forgiven for our sins. That’s a complicated idea: How do we account for a God who sets a high standard for moral and spiritual behavior, and yet forgives us when we fall short? The answer to that is, we don’t know. Well, at least the prophet Isaiah did not know how to account for God’s mercy. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord,” Isaiah quotes. “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”It takes a certain amount of humility to admit that we just don’t know God’s ways, and to accept God’s unconditional love and generosity.God’s thoughts are so far from ours that we can’t see them. Wow. That should give pause to anyone who claims to speak for God. How do we make sense of a God who calls us to fight injustice, and yet to embrace forgiveness for that very transgression? How do we explain a God who calls us to love our enemies, while at the same time calling us to stand up for our faith and our values?In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells a parable about a farmer who pays all his employees the same wage, regardless of how long they have worked. Some worked an hour or so. They get the same salary as those who worked all day. Naturally, those who worked all day are outraged. “It’s not fair!” they say. “Are you envious because I am generous?” replies the farmer. He might as well say, “My ways are not your ways.”We tend to want the universe in ways that make sense to us. We want the wicked to suffer, and the righteous to prosper, for hardship to be scarce and for comfort to be in good supply. Economic crises, global conflicts, personal pain and suffering don’t make much sense to us, and so we struggle to understand how this whole system is run by God when it doesn’t seem like it’s being run by anyone at all.According to today’s readings, it takes a certain amount of humility to admit that we just don’t know God’s ways, and to accept God’s unconditional love and generosity. It might not always feel fair — but if we accept that God loves others as much as he loves us, and forgives others just as much as he forgives us, we might come closer to understanding God’s ways.Bill Peatman writes from Napa. He may be reached at [email protected].