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It's Not Fair

by Tim O'Hearn

Children, and sometimes adults, frequently say, ďItís not fair.Ē The ďitĒ can be anything. Perhaps older sister had to wait until a certain age to be allowed to wear makeup, but younger sister got to do it at a younger age. Maybe a man gets paid a higher salary than a woman for the same job. The possibilities are endless, but the response is the same. The fairness of the situation is called into question by the person who feels they did not get what the other person got.

The common response to this complaint is to point out, ďLife is not fair.Ē As far as it goes, that is an accurate assessment, but that really does not take in all factors.

Sometimes the perceived lack of fairness is because of a lack of information. That same job that pays differently for the man and the woman may be in a different industry, or even a different company that pays everyone less. A sibling may be allowed to do something because they are more, or less, mature regardless of calendar age. When we complain that life isnít fair, it is often because we donít know all the details. The prophet Habakkuk told God that it wasnít fair for Babylon to be the nation to punish Judah for her sins; after all, Babylon was worse than Judah.

Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he? (Hab 1:13)

Godís answer was that the prophet could not see the big picture. Babylon was indeed more wicked than Judah, but Judah was wicked and in need of punishment. Babylon, though, would be punished for their sins. What Habakkuk could not see was that Israel would be reestablished, but Babylon would not.

At other times our concept of fairness is faulty. We want what is fair for us, but not for others. The people to whom Ezekiel wrote (shortly after Habakkuk) complained that God was not fair because he did not punish the children for the sins of the parents, or vice versa. God chided them for their selfish concept of fairness.

Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not fair. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal? When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die. Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways fair? are not your ways unfair? (Ezek 18:25-29)

Finally, most people donít want fairness. Even those who say that it is not fair would not want God to treat them by their concept of fairness. After all, what would you say about someone who makes the rules and says if you break them you suffer; and then he says that doesnít apply to certain people. Essentially, that is what God has done. He made the rules. Then (or even before then) he decided that he would punish someone else for breaking the rules. That is like your parents punishing the next-door neighbor because you stayed out past curfew. Itís not fair, but if the neighbor volunteered to take the punishment, it is merciful. Itís not fair, but we donít really want God to be fair; we want him to be forgiving, and forgiving is not fair.

For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 5:19-21)