Fairness has become one of the gold-standards of American culture. Everyone is equal. For anyone to receive preference is akin to discrimination and will surely bring a lawsuit. In many ways, this is good and entirely appropriate for any free society.
Fairness doesn’t mean everyone gets the same thing. It means you get what you deserve. This is our default theology. For those of us who are more melancholy, we live with guilt and gloom we cannot escape, because we have a more negative view of ourselves and the world. Others have a go-get-’em mentality and always see the positive side of things, and they live with the expectation that since they’ve never been arrested they’re all-good in God’s eyes.
But there are some ways in which fairness is unhealthy. Because love isn’t fair: it prefers the beloved over and above all others. I think my kids are cuter than your kids are. I’m sorry, but I just do. And I assume you think your kids are cuter than mine. Because that’s what love does. It’s not fair, but it’s good.
God is love. And God is not fair. But he is good, and he is just.
Fairness & Justice
God is not fair, but he is just. His judgments are right and good and true. A God whose primary description is “fair” would be devoid of grace or mercy or compassion. Instead, the guilty would immediately receive the punishment for their sin. This would be the “god” of karma… you receive what you’ve earned. Every action is weighed on a scale, and you work your hardest to have the good outweigh the bad.
Those who desire a fair God also have a very low view of sin’s seriousness. Sure, God may not like sin, but surely I wouldn’t be condemned by my sin unless it’s really seriously, right?! But that’s just not what the Bible teaches. Read the Sermon on the Mount and see how serious Jesus treats sin.
Even if God was fair and weighed the scales, and even if your scales had more good than bad… what would a fair God do with sin? A good judge makes right judgments. He does not condemn the innocent. Nor does he free the guilty.
The Grace of God
God is just (because he does not overlook sin), but he is not fair. It simply is not fair that Jesus Christ suffered on the cross on my behalf. It is not fair that He endured the rejection and wrath that should have been mine. It is not fair that I received the grace of God.
Because he transfers the guilt of humanity on the innocent shoulders of Jesus. But he is just, because the punishment was given out and paid for. If God was fair, we would all receive what we’ve earned… death.
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” (Genesis 2:16-17)
“Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
“They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:3)
“For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23)
“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:10)
Imagine a fair God, who gave to everyone what they deserved. We’d all receive the judgment we deserve! We’d all be condemned to hell.
Thanks be to God for his love and grace and mercy, which turned his justice against himself so that sinners could be reconciled with God.
“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’” (Luke 23:34, ESV)
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, ESV)
“…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19, ESV)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV)
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10, NIV)
The Gospel Gives Grace
The message of the gospel is this: Sinners are saved by faith alone in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- Sinners know their guilt. They plead for God’s grace, not for fairness.
- Salvation comes through the work of Christ, not our own. That means it’s a gift, not a paycheck. It is unfair, because it’s pure grace.
Christian… give thanks to God that He is not fair.
If you’re not a Christian… be careful if you wish for a fair God who doesn’t show grace. And if you want grace, then please consider what happens to the penalty of sin.