Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It's Not Fair!

Here’s a little experiment. Take six biscuits and two children. Give four biscuits to one child and two biscuits to the other child. Now you don’t actually need to carry this experiment out to know what will happen. The child who got two biscuits will complain that it’s not fair. There’s even a chance that the child who got four biscuits will give the other child one of theirs.

It’s hard to tell whether we are born with a desire for things to be fair, or whether it’s something we learn. But we all seem to have it. It starts off when we’re kids, when our idea of fairness usually revolves around making sure that nobody else gets more than we do. As we mature, our idea of fairness expands. We want to receive fair treatment. We want to get what we deserve. But we also, hopefully, recognise that fairness is not just something that applies to us, but to all people.

When we complain about something or are angry about something, what we’re usually upset about is the fact that things aren’t fair. When we are arguing with someone over their actions, we’re usually trying to convince them that they didn’t act fairly. When we’re depressed about our lives, there’s usually the thought that life just isn’t fair.

Well life isn’t fair. People don’t always get what they deserve. Some people get all the luck, while others seem to have a very rough deal. Some people do the right thing and it works out badly for them. Others do the wrong thing and benefit. We don’t all get equal treatment or opportunities or equal anything – no matter how much we want equality. There seems little reason to believe in justice or fairness. Because it’s something that never happens completely in our lives.

But even though life isn’t fair, we still keep hoping that it will be. We aim to treat people fairly. When we or others are mistreated, we take steps to make things right. We get annoyed when we hear about injustices. We fight to try and make the world a fairer, more equal place.

But why? Why do we want the world to be fair? Why shouldn’t there be injustice in the world? What makes injustice wrong?

The bible is very clear that justice is important. In fact, it could be argued that, in the western world, our desire for justice and fairness comes from our Judeo-Christian tradition. But many people today reject the concept of morality that comes from God. If the bible says that something is wrong, there’s no reason to go along with that anymore. Biblical morality is no longer seen as important.

Instead, our ethics should be guided by – guided by what, exactly? Often it’s guided by this sense of justice. Things should be fair. Things should be equal. People should not be disadvantaged.

If we’re going to chuck out any moral teachings that come from Christianity, then why do we hold on so strongly to justice, equality and fairness? What makes these things good in themselves? Why should I care if I get four biscuits and you get two? Who says we should both get the same amount?

Now I agree that justice and fairness are two very important factors we should take into account when making ethical or moral decisions. The problem is I have a hard time figuring out exactly why we should do that, if God and the bible are no longer in the picture.

But God’s not out of the picture. In fact, I believe this need for justice and fairness is something that comes from God. God is a God of justice. As we are made in His image, we want justice too. And no matter how much we might try to say that God and the bible aren’t important, we simply will not let go of the idea that things should be fair.


  1. This is definitely food for thought, Liz.

    I think the concept of justice and fairness does predate the Bible, but I think that the way that we view what is just in modern times is influenced by our Judeo/Christian roots.

    It's easy for me to get caught up in the notion that certain things just aren't fair. Why are some people allowed to get away with things that are awful and terrible, while others who live a good life receive nothing but torment?

    I am able to move beyond that quandary when I remind myself of my faith in Eternity, and that we will all face that ultimate judgment in the end. But you're right, I think it is our very human nature that makes us yearn for fairness.

    Good post.

  2. Hi Natalina,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Often when I write a post, there's a lot of thoughts I have that I just don't have the space to include. And here I had to leave out a lot regarding Heaven and Hell, even though I think it's very important in a discussion about fairness.

    I've heard it argued before that people just imagined Heaven and Hell out of their desire for justice. Because justice wasn't happening in this life, they thought it must happen in the afterlife.

    But maybe one of the reasons we want justice in this life because it does happen in the afterlife. We know it's something that's meant to happen.

    I think there's a few things where we want something that we don't actually get until we die. I think of it as a homesickness for Heaven, even though that doesn't quite make sense. But I think humans (whether they believe in God or not) often long for Heaven and the kind of things that Heaven will give them. Justice is only one of those things.


  3. It's always galling to see wicked people prosper and get away with everything, Liz. Believe me, I know some! The best comfort is that eventually they'll get what's coming to them at the hands of God. Of course, when they get a taste of it here, it's not bad! LOL

  4. Hi SL, I agree it's annoying to see wicked people prosper. But what I find even more upsetting seeing really good people who never seem to have anything turn out right for them. I just think why would God not answer their prayers?



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