By Julie Roys
Life is not fair. That phrase was practically a mantra in my home growing up. Anytime we’d complain about difficult circumstances or inequities – from a bad Algebra teacher to our sub-standard wardrobe – my mother would repeat that refrain.
I admit, as a kid, I thought this saying was just my mom’s way of dismissing our concerns. But later, I learned, it was a hard truth my mother would accept with an amazing amount of grace.
You see, my mom lived with cancer for 20 years. Periodically, her abdomen would become so distended by tumors she would appear pregnant. My mother underwent dozens of surgeries to remove the tumors, but they always came back and eventually claimed her life. Even so, never did I hear my mother complain; never did she rail against God for how unfair her life had become. She didn’t deserve cancer any more than the inner city child deserves poverty. But, she submitted her circumstances to God and trusted Him.
This kind of contentment is rare – especially in the United States. You might think that having one of the highest standards of living in the world would make us more content. But we’re not. Instead, we’re a culture obsessed with fair – where one group or another is always complaining that someone else has more. Americans tend to equate fairness with equity and then demand equity as a right. And regrettably, we often make these demands in the name of Christianity.
For example, some argue that biblical justice requires that the government re-distribute property tax so that all schools are funded equally. These same people often also argue that equal access to health care is a basic human right.
But biblical justice doesn’t mean equity. In Matthew 20, Jesus tells about a landowner who hired workers at different times of the day, but promised each a denarius. Though some worked many hours and another only one hour, the landowner paid them each one denarius. When those who had worked longer complained, the employer said he was not being unfair. He paid each exactly what he had agreed to pay him. “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?” the landowner said. “Or are you envious because I am generous?”
That, I believe, is precisely why our culture is focused on so-called fairness. We’re jealous and want for ourselves. But, we’re not really concerned with biblical justice. You see, the Bible describes justice as acting according to standards that are morally right – not equitable distribution of goods and services. Clearly, God gives more to some than He gives to others. Does that mean He’s unjust? No. In fact, sometimes, he gives people hardship as a mechanism to develop character; but, everything is an act of love.
Duncan Forrester, professor of Christian ethics at the University of Edinburgh, says, “There is a major difference between claiming fairness for myself and my group as a right and concern that others should be treated fairly.” You see, the former stems from envy and degenerates into rancor and self-seeking. The latter flows from love and elicits goodness and self-sacrifice.
So, should Christians work to ensure that every child receives an adequate education? Yes. But, they should advocate for change by appealing to compassion, not demanding equity as some sort of right. Life is not fair. And God never promised our life would be as easy as everyone else’s.