Trinity Church of the Nazarene, York Place, Perth, PH2 8EP

The Fairness of Grace

“That’s not fair!” It is a phrase felt and said by everyone at some point in their lives. But never more so than in a house full of children. Every minute of every day presents some opportunity for an infraction of justice that erupts in a declaration of personal rights.

“That’s not fair… they got more sweeties!”

“That’s not fair… they get to stay up later!”

“That’s not fair… we have to clean up all the dog poop while you and mum just sit and drink coffee!! (personal favourite)

But as adults we know that fairness is more complicated than just a matter of equality. Rather, it is an issue of wisdom and rightness. A 7-year old and a 14-year old do not have the same bedtimes, but rather different times that are appropriate for their respective ages.

As we get older we know that the cries for fairness from a child are steeped in immaturity, and we know that the world is a complex place with different scenarios with different answers for different people. No longer do we cry for equal dessert portions (unless it is cheesecake, and in that case, “you cut – I pick”), but we do feel the sting when life feels unfair. Right now, across the world, government leaders are in the midst of some of the most difficult decisions any leader has ever had to make. And I do not envy their position. It is not a simple decision of when to end lockdown, but a complicated series of decisions of who and when. What types of businesses and in what capacity? Who gets government money and how much? Who needs to remain in lockdown longer and for how much longer? It is incredibly complex and needs a great deal of wisdom to execute any workable plan.

We can’t speak for other countries, and other cultures, which are entitled to their own feelings of fairness. But as Britons, we (mostly) have a trust in the government with a collective desire for the social good. We love our NHS and believe that everyone is due human rights, even if that means that some need more help than others, and that some need to pay more in order to make that happen. We feel this way about our country because we know that “fairness” is not always everyone getting what is equal, but what is right.

And yet, oftentimes, the childlike cry of “That’s not fair!”, is still ever crouching at our door. When a coworker gets promoted ahead of us. When a neighbour gets a new car. When a friend finds a spouse but we struggle with singleness. Whatever it may be, there is always something. There is always a desire for something we don’t have but can see that someone else has attained. And so we ask, “Why?” “Why them, and not me?”

This deep sense of inequality and unfairness is inherent in our humanness. We don’t see the big picture, but rather only what is right in front of us. Personal contentment is elusive and we are pained with the feeling of unmet desires of our flesh. And so we are faced with the option of wallowing in our pity, or turning to the God of All Wisdom. We can focus on what we don’t have, or we can turn to the Giver of All Good Things.

Jonah is a personal favourite. Yes there is the fish. But there is so much more. It is a story of Grace and it is a story of the sickness of the human heart. And God, like a good surgeon, cuts with precision to reveal the sickness within.

Most of us know the story from childhood. God calls. Jonah runs. Eventually Jonah relunctantly comes, but is thrown into the sea and swallowed by a fish. He prays. He is spit up on the shore of Nineveh. He preaches. They repent. All is well… Sort of…

I love the last chapter. After all is done: the Ninevites have repented and the country is saved, Jonah then decides to go and sit on the hillside and pout.

It displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said,

“O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish, for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:1-3)

Jonah is mad, to say the least. And he tells God that it is because of His Grace that the Ninevites did not get what they deserved. They deserved destruction but got salvation. And it is God’s fault that things have turned out this way.

I love Jonah, because we are just like him. We are prone to getting angry when we feel life is unfair. Whether someone DID get what they didn’t deserve (or at least something we wanted for ourselves), or whether they did NOT get some punishment that we thought they should have received (mostly because we think that punishment would make us feel better). Either way, we are angry because our personal sense of fairness is not being met.

I love Jonah, and apparently so does Jesus. So much so that he repeated the exact same story but in a parable. It is the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. We mostly know it as a beautiful story of God’s Grace and how nothing can keep us from the love of God. Which is true. But it is also about the older brother who struggled with his own understanding of fairness. After the father forgave the younger brother in a grand measure, the older brother would stand outside the party, like Jonah, and pout, “It is not fair!” The older brother accuses the Father of giving the younger son more than what he feels he deserves. He believes the younger brother is lazy, foolish, and now is getting a party. But in a kind rebuke, the father says, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” The father is reminding the son that he might not always get what he wants (thank you Rolling Stones), but, all that he needs, he has in the father. The father is teaching the son that we can trust Him to do what is right. We can trust his wisdom. Things might not always be equal, but they will be fair according to the Grace and Righteousness of God.

Reflections for the Week:

– Reflect upon all that you have in God. Praise God for all that you have to be thankful for: Life, health, salvation in Christ, and everything else.

– Pray for those who might not have what you have; entrust their care to the Father.

– Take time to read Jonah 1-4 and Luke 15.

– Ask God to reveal to you what things you might feel are unfair in your life, and to bring to the surface the bitter roots you might be harbouring. Ask God to heal your heart and to give you trust in His wisdom and discernment.