Sunday, December 2, 2007

I meet Matchbox 20 and solve the bad things happening to good people riddle

I meet Matchbox 20 and solve the bad things happening to good people riddle.

Believe it or not, in the mid to late 90s, Birmingham Alabama was an epicenter of new music. It’s not that new styles were coming out of the small southern city like say Seattle, but for some reason Birmingham had a knack for launching new bands months before other portions of the country caught on.

This was due in large part to the local alternative radio station, the X. Shows such as “Reg’s Coffee House” made a point to showcase up and coming, often acoustically focused, artists that most people had never heard of. One band in particular was Matchbox 20.

Back in 1997, Matchbox 20 was not a juggernaut like today. There were no collaborations with Carlos Santana, no dating models, no releasing album after album. It was just a couple of guys trying to make some music and maybe some money. When I met them one night when they were opening up for Evan Dando (of the Lemonheads) they told me as much.

In a twenty minute conversation, one of the members of the band told me that they were not sure if they would even make money on this whole band experiment. He thought they might actually lose money since they were already in debt to the record label. He also got a little starry eyed when he mentioned how cool it would be to play on the Conan O’Brian show.

During that same time period I also met a band named “My Friend Steve.” Hailing from Florida, My Friend Steve was your basic singer/songwriter with backing musicians kind of bands. The lead singer, a guy named Steve, was a good writer and seemed pretty comfortable in the position of emerging rock star. I spoke with him briefly at a recording studio and he was a nice enough guy.

Ten years later, Matchbox 20 has sold millions of records and is an international phenomenon. Steve is teaching art at a high school in Florida. Rob Thomas married a model and won a Grammy. I have to assume Steve did neither.

How does that happen? How do two different bands, of apparently similar talent and skill, take such different life paths? How does Rob Thomas become famous and Steve become normal? How is that fair?

I don’t think it is, and when I was listening to the greatest breakup song ever written, My Friend Steve’s “All in All,” I thought about that. Life is not fair. The world is not fair. God is not fair.

My friend, Kenyan Sam, has a story he likes to share about how unfair God is and because he has a foreign accent it sounds really smart when he says it. The story goes as follows:

Two little boys were playing with marbles in Kenya. They had 22 marbles but were having a difficult time sharing them. A man walked up and told them that he would help them divide the marbles. He asked them, “Do you want me to divide them like God would or like man would?”

Thinking that God would do a much better job of being fair, the boys chose that option. Without blinking, the man gave one boy 20 marbles and another 2. When the boy with 2 complained, the man replied, “I have acted as God would. How else can you explain that man down the street being born into wealth with a mansion and that other man down the street being born into poverty and a shack?”

It’s true. God isn’t fair. He’s not going to be. And that’s a good thing, because if we got what we deserved life would be very different and very difficult. But I think I have a one sentence explanation for why bad things happen to good people. Here it is:

Bad things happen to good people because fair is a formula and God would never give us that.

Think about it, what if everything was fair? Would you need God? I wouldn’t. I would instantly know that if A and B happened, then C was soon to follow. I could plan and prepare without ever facing the mystery of uncertainty. And with that sureness would come an independence that encouraged me to leave the Lord behind.

For instance, when you own a high tech navigation system do you ever stop to ask people directions? No, you have the tool that can help you get to your destination. If life were fair and I got stressed out, I wouldn’t turn to my father, I would turn to my formula. I would turn to that in my moments of doubt and question. That piece of paper would become my God, my safety blanket, my savior.

And that’s not going to happen. God will never create a life for me that guarantees I won’t need him. I’ll never get a formula to navigate the day.

Some bands get famous, some bands get forgotten and this unfair world continues to spin. Some of us get 20 marbles or some only 2, but that’s not really the point. We won’t get a formula because formula followers isn’t what God wants. He wants fellowship, not fairness. Grace, not formulas. Gifts, not wages.

And that’s the kind of unfairness I can live with.

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