It’s Just Not Fair

The other day I was at “Yogurt Wave” and I almost gagged.  It had nothing to do with the quality of the product I was consuming, or the extreme proliferation of self-serve frozen yogurt shops, and everything to do with finally reaching my threshold of tolerance for hearing the phrase “It’s not fair!”

If you are a mom you’ve already guessed why it was said; someone got more yogurt than someone else.

Whether it’s professional athletes arguing with team owners, politicians playing chicken with our finances, or teenagers lamenting a life altering loss during C.O.D.4, I think we are all beginning to grow weary of hearing how unfair circumstance is.

“It’s not fair!” is an amazing sentence because even though we hate hearing it, we never really grow tired of saying it.

If there’s anything worse than hearing about how unfair life is, it’s probably hearing the standard response to the fairness issue.  Remember the first time you heard someone say, “Life isn’t fair, deal with it?”  It’s like your heart was being boiled in a pot of tears as your soul was being hit in the crotch with a frozen sledgehammer.

The only thing you can say in response is, “Well it should be.”

I’d like to suggest two things to you: The first is that life is actually quite a bit more fair than we think it is and the second is that when we say it isn’t, we should really should be saying, “I don’t like what I have.”

To the first statement I’d add that natural law and physics maintain a fairly rigid amount of fairness over our lives.  Whenever we act, there is an equal and opposite reaction in response.  This is why people who drive into intersections against red lights usually get into car accidents, and viable seeds that get planted into fertile soil grow into plants.

Because of the consistency of repeatable events, we gain an amount of predictability about what will happen in most situations.  Dropping a rubber ball onto a concrete surface will result in the ball bouncing, because gravity has a pretty consistent track record.  This track record is why no one is surprised when a child who trips while running with a cupcake ends up on the ground covered in cupcake.

Gravity also has a consistent track record when it comes to humor.

It’s most often human interference that causes life’s disruptions. Humans catch falling balls. Humans build rockets to escape gravity.   Most often what we are lamenting when we say that something isn’t fair is the instability that results from human interaction.

We blame life for being unfair, but it’s actually humans that aren’t fair.

In regards to the second part of my statement, saying that something isn’t fair when we don’t like what we have, I’d add that humans love to gripe their way into getting something by playing on the sympathy of others.

At Yogurt Wave, a child put a greater quantity of yogurt into their cup and a mother paid for it.  When the child with less yogurt noticed it they cried foul.  The adult response was a reply about life “not being fair.”

In a perfect world the conversation would have gone like this:
Child #1:  “I don’t like that he got more yogurt than me, I think we should have the same amount.”
Mom: “I’m sorry you don’t like it, he got more because he’s bigger.”
Child #1: “I don’t think that’s fair.”
Mom: “I bought you yogurt like I said I would.  That’s what fairness is.  Fairness isn’t sameness” 
Child #2 “Eat it, Child#1”

Humans challenge fairness when we believe that our innocence in a matter will prompt someone else to give in to our desires.  Because of this we seem to have a fundamental problem understanding the concept of fairness.

A large part of our problem is that we equate fairness with sameness.  This is why we try to ensure consistency when it comes to interacting with others.  When every person is not treated with sameness, we get the idea that some people are being singled out for good treatment while others are being neglected.

Culturally we demand that each person be treated with sameness to ensure consistency.  While we assert that each person is unique, different, and special; we don’t want to have to treat them that way.

This is the inconsistency of humanity at work.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells a story that illustrates fairness.  He tells us that a certain landowner is working to harvest his crop, so he goes out to hire day laborers.  After agreeing on a daily wage he sends them out into the fields at 9 A.M.  Three times during the day he hires additonal laborers, at noon, at 3, and at 5 P.M.  When the work is done, the landowner gives each of the workers a full day’s wage.

You don’t have to imagine the response:  ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’ As members of the modern “sameness” movement we naturally sympathize with the complaint of the 9 A.M. workers.  It doesn’t seem fair, and we deeply resonate with the understanding that humans are unfair.

As Jesus tells this story he deconstructs our notions that sameness and consistency equate to fairness.

The landowner responds by challenging the workers: “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’”  The landowner’s generosity to the latecomers wasn’t a sign of unfairness, it was a sign of  graciousness.  Unfairness would have been reneging on his agreement to pay workers the wage that they agreed to at the beginning of the day.

Going the next step further, I’d suggest to you that not only do we misunderstand the concept of fairness, but that “sameness” isn’t actually fair and it’s also damaging- producing a consistent and repeatable sense of entitlement in our hearts.

Sameness causes us to expect to receive what we did not earn.

If you disagree, consider what happens when someone who missed the majority of soccer games doesn’t get included in the team picture or receive a trophy at the end of the year?  How about the response of the person who comes to church 15 minutes late and can’t find a parking space or a seat with their friends?

When people don’t get what they want, or like what they have, they appeal to a sense of sameness, labeled as fairness, to get what they desire through sympathy.  When they don’t receive this sympathy from the people in charge, they are left to appeal to the crowd in efforts to build “a consensus” or “majority” who will stand behind them until they get what they want.

Not only is this unfair, it’s unBiblical.

In his parable, Jesus makes the point that fairness is achieved when each party accomplishes what they have agreed to do.  Anything less than this is unfairness, everything beyond it is grace.  Christians aren’t called to sameness, we are called to grace.  Christian leaders don’t dole out sameness, or give into the pressure afor it.  They do what they say they are going to do, and offer grace to others when they don’t.

This is the consistency of Jesus and his Gospel.

It’s essential that we understand this because God does not operate through sameness or give into our desires for it.  God is just, God is fair, and God is good.  We know this because he does what he says he will do and he offers us grace when we do not.


One Response to “It’s Just Not Fair”

  1. Sharon O August 19, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    oh I can hear it already all the times I have heard “it’s not fair”… with children that is a given. It will happen always.
    My firm answer most of the time is ‘deal with it’.
    Perhaps that is what God tells me?
    Another good post from a great writer and pastor.

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