Is life fair? The common saying, “Life’s not fair” suggests that it is not. Those who believe in karma would say that it all evens out. People who expect God to deliver justice in eternity would agree with the preceding group, but for different reasons.
I’ll leave you to ponder that question on your own for now (although you’re welcome to discuss your thoughts in the comments). Let’s ask something else: Would we want this life (meaning our mortal lives here on earth) to be decidedly unfair? Here, I do not mean that we would celebrate those who oppress other people and make life unfair for those around them. Instead, do we really want things to be unfair for ourselves? Do we want to get the short end of the stick, the smaller slice of cake, and the bill instead of the meal?
Probably not. However, in regards to the Kingdom of Heaven, where much of our conventional wisdom and many of our selfish preferences get turned upside down, Jesus said the following:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
Matthew 5:38-39 NIV
By way of background, my understanding is that limiting revenge to equal consequences was actually protective in the days of Moses. If someone knocked out your tooth, you were limited in the Law of Moses (see Exodus 21:23-25) to one of their teeth. (Having said that, I don’t think that dentistry would allow you to re-use theirs, so it was still punitive.) In other cultures from that day, I’ve read that if someone knocked out your tooth, there was no limit to how much vengeance you could extract upon them: we might say that other cultures had a policy of “your life, your family’s lives, and all of your belongings…for a tooth”.
We Americans have been trained to have a strong sense of what is called justice. Sometimes, this is real justice, where those who hurt others are punished with consequences. Other times, this is just a perceived slight or some offense that doesn’t merit the time and effort we take to complain about it.
Justice is an important part of a society, and a legal system should strive to dispense justice when appropriate (although sometimes grace and mercy are also needed). However, there are times when we – as individuals – must show mercy and grace to other people, even as we were shown mercy and grace from God.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that followers of Jesus should go out of our way to always be on the losing side of things, or to actively put ourselves in a position where we are being taken advantage of. I don’t see that concept in Jesus teachings.
However, even without trying, there are situations where we will have the chance to “even the score” or even take revenge, and we will have a choice: Take what we believe that we deserve, or choose to serve the other person.
As one commentator wrote with regards to this portion of Jesus’ teaching, “In each instance the disciple is to respond to the situation with an active concern to overcome evil with good.” [Chouinard, p.117].
Jesus invited us to let things go, rather than propagating harm to others. And, He didn’t just tell us to do so, He showed us what it looked like. He stood up for others (including God the Father) and told the truth, but He also forgave those who put Him on the cross and then died for the sins of those (including us) who had rejected Him.
There are times when we must forgive, and allow ourselves to remain defrauded, cheated, or injured (without getting paid back, or sometimes without even getting an apology).
This is not fair.
It is not justice.
Instead, it is living like Jesus.
Based on Sunday School lesson prepared for (and delivered on) January 10, 2021
- Christian Standard, Volume CLVI, Number 1, pages 79-80. © 2020 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Matthew, by Larry Chouinard. College Press Publishing Company, © 1997, p. 102-121.