Summary: We spend WAY too much energy trying to balance the books of our relationships. Jesus did not teach us to be fair, but to be good. His birth beautifully illustrates the lesson.
Php 2:5-11 – ...Christ Jesus: ...being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (NIV)
We have a saying in our house than came about in the following way:
Madison, our 5 year old, has an overblown sense of justice. Every child expects a certain amount of fairness, but she notices imbalance everywhere. It wouldn’t be so bad if all she did was notice, but she feels it necessary to restore order or see order is restored. Her lack of power as a 5 year old never ceases to frustrate her.
Now, our dinner room table sits six and there are only four in our family. For logistical reasons, our 3 year old sits on the end of the table. She is sandwiched by my wife and I (yes, it takes us both). Madison sits on the other side of me. We have only recently moved into our present home and so the traditions are still being established. So, it came to pass one evening that I was the last to approach the table. Madison insisted that I sit not between her and Milana but rather on the other side of her. Her justification for this request was that it wasn’t fair that Milana got to sit by both parents while she only sat by one. And since it was physically impossible for both children to be near both parents, it was only right that each child only sit near one parent.
We tried to reason with her that while her suggestion had a sense of balance, her idea of fairness in no way improved her situation. She didn’t care. Fair was fair. At this point, it would have been in my best interest to accommodate her. Her reaction to unfairness would far outweigh my three year old’s reaction to loss. However, this scenario was a perfect opportunity to teach her one of our personal Christian values: “it’s better to be good than fair.” So I sat in my usual spot. It took a while to restore order.
There is something within us that demands justice. We want things to be fair. This is more the case when we find OURSELVES on the losing side of the imbalanced equation. We don’t complain when we are eating turkey for Christmas while others starve to death. But when we are the ones being left out, misrepresented, or slighted...well, it’s another story.
Here’s the thing: justice is part of the character of God. Justice is moral and right. Our sense of justice is supposed to push us to do all we can to prevent abuse and neglect. If anything, we need a stronger sense of justice. But when we demand fairness, it isn’t usually in defence of moral truth. Instead, it is usually a childish cry for more, for mine, for me.
Jesus turned the concept of fair on its ear. Listen to these familiar instructions:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
We have a tendency to live by the old code, “eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” There is balance in it. It seems natural. And it is great if you are running a society. But as Christians, we are called to live beyond the natural. Fair is for fallen humans. But as children of God, we are to be more than fallen humans. When faced with an imbalanced situation, we are not looking for balance, but for what is best. If someone strikes you, it might be fair to strike them back. But is it best? The person who strikes you should be of great concern to you. They likely need you. What brings a person to strike, to sue, to force? Something has made that action natural. To react naturally is to deny the strength of God within us. God’s goodness is to rise above the natural and react as God would. God reaches out. God acts toward reconciliation, toward healing, toward helping. He looks to build up, not tear down.