This morning, I was reading in the book of Nehemiah, chapter 9, about the returned Jewish exiles gathering around the Temple and reaffirming the promises of God. As they recount the history of what God has done for His people, they make the declaration that God kept His promise to Abraham because He is "fair."
And I cringed.
"Fair" is such a non-word. And such a muddled word. And such a cheap word. Is this the best we can come up with to describe our God? And would we even want a God who is fair?
To understand the painful reaction I had to this choice of word, you have to understand what fair is. And what it isn't. It's nothing...and it's everything. It's yes...and it's no. It's this...and it's that. And that's why it's troublesome.
Let's say you have three children, ages 10, 7, and 4. Let's just say. And let's say you have six cookies to split between them. It might be fair to give two cookies to each child and declare that each has received exactly the same portion as the others. That might be fair. But it might be equally as fair to give three cookies to the oldest child, two to the middle, and one to the youngest child, on account of the size of their stomachs and their sugar-processing abilities. It might also be fair to give three to the youngest, two to the middle, and one to the oldest, accounting for how many calories each is likely to burn in the course of his/her average day. Three possible options, each of which could be called fair to one degree. Which is fair? How do you decide?
The Scriptures say God sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. This might be fair. After all, everyone gets the same rain. Everyone gets the same chance to deal with the weather. Everyone gets the same measure. But it might also be fair to send more rain on the righteous, thereby blessing their crops in exchange for their righteousness while letting the crops of the unrighteous struggle. But it might also be fair to send more rain on the unrighteous and drown out their crops, forcing them to pay the price for their unrighteousness, while in the right measure of rain, the crops of the righteous thrive. Which is fair? How do you decide?
And what about grace? Is grace ever...fair?
See, fairness sets up this paradigm where we have to start making justifications. We have to start making explanations. We have to start making sense of things, and it's not so easy. We could argue fairness one way, and justifiably so, but someone else could argue fairness must mean something else entirely, and they could be equally right. Then we're left questioning whether God is fair at all, and worse, we're left trying to defend Him.
There are so many other words that would be great to describe God here. God is just. Justice is actually something. God is faithful. Faith is something, too. God is good, God is gracious, God is loving. All of these things are actually things. They mean something. But is God fair? I hope not.
Because I never want to be in the position of defending Him.
God has never asked us to defend Him; it is He who defends us. We don't have to fight for Him; He fights for us. We don't have to make rationalizations; He's perfectly rational. And we don't have to justify His actions; He justifies us.
So God is a lot of things, but He's not fair. He never has been. Because fair isn't really anything at all. And the God who is our everything can never be not anything. So pick a different word.
Almost any different word.