Life Isn't Fair
"Life isn’t fair."
We’ve all heard that phrase at some point when we were kids. As a parent, I’ve learned to appreciate the power it holds to cut off all further discussion and free me up to move on to more important things like doom scrolling Facebook.
I remember growing up in an incredibly unfair household. My brother always got to go out when I couldn’t, he got a CD player (yes I’m that old) before I did, and he even got a car before I did! Notwithstanding the fact that he’s 6 years older than me, I am living proof that life is unfair.
Now that I’m an adult, I’ve come to accept the fact that life is undeniably unfair in ways that are frustratingly out of my control, but what I’ve begun to wonder is whether or not life is supposed to be fair.
Does God always do what’s fair?
It’s always good to be fair, right? Everyone at my daughter’s birthday party should get an ice cream cone. That works out great if I have just enough ice cream for everyone at the party. But what if the dog got to the ice cream first and there aren’t enough ice cream cones for everyone? What do I do then?
My Asian sensibilities would be tempted to tell my daughter that she should give up her cone so that her friends could all have one because I was raised to value the needs of the group over the needs of the individual.
I’m not sure that cultural lesson would go over so well with my kids though, so it might be a good time to say “Life isn’t fair,” eat all of the ice cream myself, and move on.
I have four children ages 5 to 15, and I guarantee I am not fair. They remind of that fact all the time, but hey, “Life isn’t fair.” When we think about the complexity of our lives and relationships, being fair doesn’t seem like a realistic way to live.
Maybe our goal shouldn’t be fairness.
Every January, we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and February is designated as Black History Month.
I remember a time when I thought Black History Month was unfair. Why don’t we have Asian History Month? (Note: as of 1992, Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month actually became a real thing.) And every year on social media, I find people asking why there isn’t White History Month. If we were fair, we’d give every race their own month.
The problem with fairness is that it assumes everyone wants and needs the same thing. Giving $100 to a millionaire has a different impact than giving a $100 tip at Applebees.
Perhaps the goal should be justice.
I noticed something in Dr. King’s writing and speeches. He says very little about fairness and a whole lot about justice.
"True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice."
—Stride Toward Freedom, 1958
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
—"Letter from Birmingham Jail," April 16, 1963
“The time is always right to do what is right.”
—Oberlin College commencement speech, 1965
Justice is about making things right.
Jesus didn’t sacrifice Himself to make the world more fair. His death was the most unfair event in all of human history, but it was in fact perfect Justice embodied by perfect Love. No one else could have made things right between God and humanity.
This shift from fairness to justice has huge implications on our relationships with each other.
My challenge for us is to see our relationships with our friends, neighbors, communities, country, and world through the eyes of Justice.
- Instead of looking at what someone deserves, look for what they need.
- Instead of looking at what opportunities someone has, look for what is standing in their way.
- Instead of looking at what we deserve, look for what we can give.
Followers of Jesus can and must be on the front lines advocating for racial justice because we follow a God who is willing to make things right, even if it means giving up what is rightfully His.
"In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:5-8)
Interested in broadening your understanding of these issues? You can start with participating in Unity Table, an easy way to share a meal and meaningful conversation with someone who doesn't look like you. Look here for more information.