Monday, December 4, 2023

Fair and Equal

You can ruffle a lot of feathers in today's world if you say something like, "God's justice is not fair; it's equal." Fairness and equality are concepts that are so much a part of our daily cultural conversation that it grates against our skin to hear something that sounds so...callous. 

I have spent the past few years working in the public schools, and one of my very good friends there who works with kids with higher needs likes to say that "Fair isn't always equal." And she's right - in our world, it's not. 

This concept is illustrated very well by a cartoon that likes to make its way around social media claiming the same thing. In the cartoon, a class of animals is all gathered at the skating rink while some authority figure says, "Everyone gets two skates. Sorry, but I can't do something special just for one student." Meanwhile, there's a very sad-looking octopus sitting in the middle of the panel. And the point here is - equal isn't fair. 

Of course, we can layer this with all kinds of social demographics, whatever really tickles our fancy. We could talk about race. Or disability. Or age. Or economic status. We could talk about sliding scale fees for housing, for child care, for health care. We could talk about programs that help the less fortunate and, this time of year, we could talk about donation containers. We could talk about natural intelligence and learning disabilities. We could talk about all of this stuff, and we do. Ad nauseum. You can't turn anywhere in this world without hearing about fairness and equality. 

And we spend a lot of our time doing the math. Oh, how we love the math. (Don't claim you don't like math - we all spend a lot of our time doing a lot of social math.) We look at every case as an individual case. We look at circumstances. We talk about our circumstances. We craft narratives where someone is more or less responsible for their actions because of the things they've had to deal with in their past. 

Someone who came from homelessness gets a little more encouragement because they have worked really hard to be where they are now. Someone still stuck in homelessness gets less because they haven't worked hard enough. Someone born with a silver spoon in their mouth gets no sympathy at all, while someone from a broken home gets as much sympathy as we can muster...and a little more. We have this social scale in our minds that tells us how much someone deserves, what we might owe them, how society ought to respond to them. 

The scale is different, ironically, based on our own story. The circumstances we came from shape how we interpret the circumstances around us. For example, if you have worked hard to get where you are, it might be easier for you to have less sympathy for someone you don't think is working hard enough. If you've never had trouble in your life, you might be more tempted to look down on someone who has had one hard season after another. If you've always had money, it's hard for you to understand poverty; if you've never had money, it's hard for you to understand wealth. 

We get into these conversations and we engage our world, and we struggle when we run into these "grading systems" of circumstances that are different than our own because we're so sure that we're right about who deserves what and from whom and in what measure, and we can't understand why someone else doesn't see it that way. 

So even the world's "fairness" isn't really fair - not to everyone. 

Still, we defend it because something inside of us seems to innately understand that fair isn't equal and that equal isn't fair. Not only is it not, but it can't be

Then, some hooligan like me comes along and says something like, "God isn't fair; He's equal." And we bristle. And we think, that can't be right. God can't be good if He's not fair. 

Can't He? 

We'll talk about this tomorrow, but for today, I'll leave you with this question: what, exactly, was "fair" about the Cross?

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