I confess. I am guilty of expecting, wanting, and demanding fairness from God. I’m lucky I’ve never received it. A fair God would not be as willing to tolerate some of the things I say and do. Fairness, when meted out from above, would lead to a capricious sense of unease among those who worshiped such a God. As much as I want God to be fair; fairness scares me to death.
Fairness is a human construct. The late political philosopher and theorist John Rawls taught that all members of a society should believe their society is fair. Fairness is a collective, created belief we hold in common. Fairness is the basis of our understanding of justice. Despite the rampant inequalities which lead to injustices, our ideas of fairness should eventually move us toward justice. For Rawls, justice is fairness, a practical model in which utilitarian principles could be employed to society’s benefit.
Here’s where things get dangerous. Christians begin using artificial constructions (like Rawls’ notion of fairness) and apply these same criteria to God. We impose our idea of fairness onto our belief in God. In the quest to create fair societies, laws, and cultures; we have added God to the list of things which must be deemed “just” and “fair”. When God becomes one more subject of which fairness is to be demanded, we create a new God. The new, “fair” God is malicious and erratic. “Fairness” from this God means a heavenly justification of suffering, a divine imprimatur on every act of cruelty, and explaining every exploitative act as a “fair” blessing. Does this God look familiar to anyone?
What we see as a desire for “fairness” from God is an ambition to create a “fair” God is our own image. We want a God that is as arbitrary, inhumane, and as fundamentally flawed as ourselves. God isn’t fickle, volatile, and unfair; we are. The fairness we believe God lacks is the unfairness we refuse to recognize in ourselves.
God’s love is not a utilitarian idea. When looking at the greatest good for the greatest number of people, Grace, the ultimate free gift, excludes no one. Utilitarian principles always leave someone out; you help lots of people, but not everyone. Grace isn’t fair. There will be an unfair perspective or an aggrieved party. It wasn’t fair that Jesus died. God’s idea of fairness isn’t like our own. I’m not saying, “God’s plans are unknowable” or “God’s ways are mysterious”. No, I’m saying God isn’t fair. We don’t want God to be fair. We couldn’t live with that level of fairness.