Wednesday, February 20, 2013

life isn't fair

Written by Daniel Triestman

Reading: Exodus 22, Colossians 4:1

In Exodus 22, we get insight into God's justice. For a violator to be justified it requires not only restitution, but also a penalty. This seems reasonable -you steal something, you suffer loss. God also gives protection to victims of circumstances and defends the rights of the poor. For many of us this also gels with our personal sense of justice. Yet some of the provisions of Exodus may not sit so well with our understanding of what is “just:” if a man violates a virgin he gets to marry her, unless her father disapproves. How is any of this fair? What about the woman's rights? Shouldn't she get a say in what happens to her?

Every kid who has ever eaten a cookie smaller than their brother's cookie knows that life is not fair. Yet when we appeal to the great arbiters of justice, Mom and Dad, arguing “that's not fair” we are often given the profoundly dissatisfying explanation: “life isn't fair.” We can certainly see that life is not fair, but should life be fair? Is life not fair because of the effects of sin or because God has not made life to be fair?

The Scriptures seem to offer several apparently conflicting perspectives on “fairness.” Arguing for “unfairness” are concepts like God's Canaanite genocide or Christ's parables of the talents where “everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away (Matt. 25:29).” Yet we also see God depicted as one who is without partiality (Deut. 1:17; 10:17; 2 Chron. 19:7; Job 34:19; Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11; Gal. 2:6; Eph. 6:9) causing the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous alike (Matt. 5:29).

In Colossians 4:1, masters are commanded to extend to their slaves both justice and fairness. The word justice speaks of compliance to a law or standard. The word “fairness,” however, connotes the idea of equality -that each person should get the same treatment.

In respect to questions of fairness or equality I propose two fundamental, contradictory scientific principles to be discussed in the comments section below: 1. Equality cannot exist. Nothing is absolutely fair. Even if my brother and I had cookies that appeared to be alike, on a molecular level no two cookies are the same. In our dynamic universe nothing is absolutely constant, identical or repeatable. As well, given quantum mechanics' developing variables and sophisticated metrics, inequality is becoming increasingly pronounced. 2. Equality must exist. Buried within every complaint that “it's not fair” is the implication that things ought to be fair. Regardless of what our experiences have taught us, we all seem to have an intrinsic desire to see equality. Social psychology argues that it is part of our nature to rejoice in the exaltation of the humble or want to see the mighty fall. Despite experiencing bias and prejudice, we seem to expect that things should be otherwise. Inherent within the human experience is a belief that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator certain unalienable rights.”

As we read the Scriptures and study our world, we see profound “unfairness.” Our nature looks for equality and is left wanting. Perhaps this is the story of “fairness” -that things are not and cannot be as they should be. And so we are left to wait in faith for the true arbiter of justice, One who can restore all things to their proper place. Questions: Is God fair? How do you understand the difference between “justice” and “fairness?” Is “fairness” a Biblical ideal? Should we, as Christians, try to make life “fair” by advocating for civil rights or equality?. 


  1. Isn't a cry for fairness as a child simply a selfish plea? And isn't any desire to see the underdog win, and the big man to have the rug pulled out from under him just a desire on our part to laugh at the misfortune of someone who probably has it a whole lot better than the average Joe?
    I don't find God to be very fair. The whole Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated thing has always rubbed me the wrong way, even though I understand that it had to be that way. I also understand that to show the wonderful you have to have the contrast of the not so wonderful. "But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God." 1 Corinthians 1:27-29
    I also don't find fairness and justice to coincide. I think fairness is more everyone gets the same, justice is everyone gets what they earned.
    Lastly, I do think that we should advocate for civil rights/equality maybe not necessarily for the sake of fairness but because of James 1:27 "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."

  2. Try this experiment: Next time you are with a group of children, give all but one a cookie and see how they respond. Was it only the recipient of inequality that complained or did others see this situation as "unfair?"

    Where does "a desire on our part to laugh at the misfortune of someone who probably has it a whole lot better than the average Joe" come from? Why is this urge almost universal? Could it be a innate desire for equality?

    Just because life does not figure in a way that we may understand to be fair does not mean that God Himself is not fair. Which inequalities are the effects of sin and which "unfair" situations are fundamental to God's design?

    In the New Testament physical blessings such as wealth, health and intellect are negatively correlated with spiritual blessings. You give an example of this negative correlation above "God has chosen . . .foolish . . .weak" In Luke 16:25, Abraham makes a connection between getting bad things in this life and good in the next and vise versa. Isn't this a form of fairness/equality?