A long ago incident involving stickers, of all things, taught me something about fairness. When my kids were in elementary school they and their friends collected, compared and traded stickers. Do third graders still play with stickers? Or are they too busy with facebook? Just wondering…
On one occasion we were entertaining another family and their children hadn’t brought any stickers with them, so our children shared theirs by giving each guest a handful. Everyone was happy, and eventually the comparing and trading commenced.
None of this was at all remarkable until I heard one of the visiting children exclaim, “That’s not fair!” Apparently she forgot that she had walked in the door with no stickers at all.
Is it fair that I was born into a middle class family in the United States while other women live in poor and oppressive third world countries? Is it fair that Warren Buffet knows how to make a ton of money, and I don’t? Is it fair that the weather in Chicago is often extreme and unpleasant, while it is always perfectly balmy in Hawaii? Is it fair that some people have great athletic talent or stunningly attractive faces and others don’t?
What is “fairness” anyway?
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines it as:
“marked by impartiality and honesty; free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism”
As for the Bible, my concordance notes exactly three occurrences of the word “fair” or “fairness” in the Bible, and all of them are in the context of human interactions. Proverbs 1:3 tells us that wisdom is useful for “doing what is right and just and fair,” Colossians 4:1 instructs masters to provide their slaves with what is “right and fair,” and Proverbs 29:14 observes that “If a king judges the poor with fairness, his throne will always be secure.”
Wait a minute. Isn’t slavery itself unfair? Shouldn’t the king figure out how to do away with poverty instead of just treating the poor fairly. Isn’t it a little ironic that instructions on fairness assume the existence of unfair conditions?
Furthermore, the Bible confuses us with stories of God’s mysterious ways with individuals and nations. He is said to have made Pharoah’s heart unyielding so that he could perform more miraculous signs before bringing the Israelites out of Egypt and to have favored one brother over another. Jesus said that his parables were intended to obscure understanding. That just doesn’t sound fair. Why should God give understanding to some people but not others? Why should he choose one person over another?
Full treatment of those perplexing passages is beyond my expertise and the space of one blog entry, but the bottom line is simply that God is God. Theologians would say that he is sovereign. The stickers were all his to begin with, and he can hand them out as he sees fit. He is not constrained by human concepts of fairness. I can only come to terms with God’s sovereignty as I begin to comprehend how incomprehensible he is to the confines of my human thinking.
I cannot fathom his ways, but I have learned to trust his heart.
God never promised fairness. Instead, he promised us his limitless love and his constant presence. He offers ultimate justice, which is not necessarily the same as fairness, and that somehow all of injustice of the world will one day be redeemed according to his good purpose.
And he is our Savior. In moment of sacrificial love that stunned the world, Jesus himself took the penalty for our countless offenses on the cross so that all who believe in him are free. Heaven must have cried out, No fair!
I am very thankful that God is not always fair.
What do you think? Is God fair? Should he be fair? How would you define fairness?