Life Is Not Fair (and Neither Is God)

Oftentimes as we grow older and become parents, we find ourselves repeating the things that our own parents have said to us.  You know – those sayings that, as a kid, you promised yourself you would never use when you became a parent.  Much like God’s blessings and curses travel from generation to generation, so too do our parents quips and sayings.

One of my father’s mantras when we were younger was, “Life’s not fair.”  My father’s usage was generally in response to the idea that one of the children in my family (I have three brothers) got something that the rest of us felt that we deserved as well.  To a chorus of “That’s not fair!  Why did he…?  What about me…?,” he would calmly answer, “life’s not fair.”  It didn’t make much sense to me as a kid, but I now find myself repeating it frequently to my own kids.  As I have grown older, and hopefully a little bit wiser, I have come to appreciate the simple truth of that statement.

Fairness has become the battle cry of our society.  When something isn’t fair, it is viewed as inherently wrong or even evil.  We have gone from a culture and society here in the United States which was built on the idea of equal opportunity and “evolved” into a culture that expects equal outcome.  Kids do not fail, everyone gets a trophy, and people bring presents to a birthday party for the other kids in the family because they don’t want them to feel left out.  We live in a culture that demands fairness at all times and in all respects.

The problem is – fairness is NOT a biblical concept.  The God we serve is a God of justice, but nowhere in the Bible does it indicate that he is “fair.”  Indeed, the idea of fair is a very human concept.  The Bible never attributes the idea of fairness to God.  My search of the Bible reveals only three instances in which the word fair, meaning equal or same, is used, and each time it is terms of how humans should treat other people fairly.  In Deuteronomy the Israelites are commanded to use a fair weight (Deut 25:15).  In 2 Corinthians, Paul explains that it is fair for the people to supply the needs of those who have less that at some point they could do the same (2 Cor 8:13-14).  And, in Colossians, Paul instructs masters to treat their slaves fairly. (Col 4:1).  In all of these instances, God was not calling for equal treatment, but merely that we would follow the Golden rule to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  God does not seek to be fair.  There are different levels of rewards in heaven.  Jesus treated different groups of people differently in terms of access to him during his time her on Earth.  And, the parable of the workers hired at different times during the day but paid the same wages reminds us that he gives us all the same grace regardless of timing or efforts or merit.  The fact of the matter is that we have done nothing to merit the grace of God given to us in the redemption of our souls through the death and resurrection of Christ, and if God were interested in being fair, we would all be condemned rather than redeemed through Christ.

So, what is the problem fairness?  What’s wrong with being fair?  In both parenting and other leadership positions, we often find ourselves paralyzed by the fear of not being fair.  As parents, we feel like we must treat all of our kids equally.  As children’s ministry workers, we are afraid to dish out consequences or rewards as deserved for fear that they will not be perceived as fair to the kids in our ministries, or worse yet – their parents.  Let’s look first at the problem from the standpoint of parenting and secondly from the standpoint of children’s ministry.  Let’s ask, what’s the problem with being fair?

I have four kids, and one of the things that constantly and consistently amazes me most is how different they are from one another.  The differences in personality and likes and dislikes often leaves me wondering how they could possibly share the same DNA.  Despite the differences though, I often find myself falling into the trap of trying to ensure that I treat them all equally.  Now, don’t misunderstand me.  There are some things that must be equal in parenting.  We must love all of our kids equally and unconditionally.  We must provide for their needs, and we cannot play favorites.  Beyond those basics though, our goal as parents should not be fairness when it comes to raising our kids.  When we strive too hard to be “fair” we end up teaching our kids that they deserve the same treatment as their siblings.  We brew in them a sense of entitlement, a lack of contentment and an inability to rejoice in the happiness of others.

The same problems can easily arise in children’s ministry when we allow ourselves to be consumed with fairness and equity rather than focusing on our true mission to teach kids about Jesus.  I know from personal experience with our discipline system that it easy to render the whole system ineffective in the interest of fairness.  Allow me to explain.  We pass out three arm bands at the beginning of each class.  The kids lose an arm band when they do not follow the rules of the classroom.  For each arm band left at the end of service, they get a piece of candy.  For the first several months we used the system, the teachers in our room (including myself) were reluctant to take all three arm bands because it didn’t seem fair that some kids would get candy and others would get none.  The kids picked up on this as well, and it left the whole structure of the discipline system rendered useless because they kids knew they were going to get some candy regardless of how they acted.  It wasn’t until we got past that inherent need for fairness and actually began to take all the bracelets that the kids respected the discipline system and began to follow rules.

How do we respond?  What should we teach kids about being fair?  I recently heard Andy Stanley explain that his kids hear him say all the time that fairness ended in the Garden of Eden.  I like that concept.  He also explained that this idea of fairness is frequently used as an excuse not to do anything for anybody because we can not do it for everybody.  The world we live in today is not fair and kids should not have any expectation that it will be fair.  When kids come to expect “fair,” it inevitably leads to a sense of entitlement.  As a parent, do special things for just one kid at a time.  Bless all of your kids eventually and evenly, but don’t feel like you have to bless them all at the same time.  Require your kids to do things that might seem unfair to them.  Generally in my family, the kid who makes the mess is asked to clean it up, but occasionally I intentionally have them clean up after one of their siblings just to remind them that they are not entitled to “fairness.”

I know of a Children’s Pastor who announces at the beginning of every service that things are not fair in his children’s ministry.   I think we should make every effort to include kids in skits and giveaways and everything else we do in children’s ministry.  That said, I do not keep a written list of who has done what or participated in what activity.  I want the kids to understand that, while they will get a chance to participate, my role is not to ensure that everything is handed out fairly.  Likewise, on Wednesday nights when I lead our AWANA game time, there is always some grumbling about how the teams, or the game, or the rules are not fair to some group of players.  In those moments, I explain that we are there to have fun, but that doesn’t always mean that things are going to be fair.  I will stack the deck against certain teams at times to make sure that they don’t win every week.  They never think that is fair, but we always end up having fun.

So, what is your story?  Do you fall victim to the pressure to be “fair?”  What negative side effects have you seen from striving to be “fair?”  How do you talk to your kids about the concept?  What practical steps can you take to help your kids avoid falling into the rut that says “life should treat me fair?”


Comments

  1. Denise frenette says

    Some Bible verses about “life is fair. “http://www.bibleinfo.com/en/topics/fairness

  2. Brinta says

    ‘We must love all our children equally and unconditionally. We must not play favorites’. Exactly. And that is what is fair.

    Giving them the same outcome no matter their efforts or goodness of nature and intent, is not what is fair. In fact it would be unfair to give the same out come to two kids, if one of them did right and one of them did wrong in any given situation, or if one of them put in a lot of effort and one of them put in considerably less. But it would be grossly unfair to have a pre-determined outcome for the kids based on some sort of favoritism, i.e Child A will always be rewarded less or even punished because I don’t like him (for whatever reason), and Child B will always be forgiven or rewarded more because I like him.

    The current push in the United States is not about equal outcome. It is about equal playing field (do not play favorites).

    Sometimes ppl get so used to doing things a certain way they become blind to the enormity of the wrong they are doing. Currently in the United States playing favoritism based on race is one such problem. Some racists have been that way for so long they don’t even recognize the enormity of the evil that dwells in their hearts.

    It is very important for the ppl wronged that this get corrected. It is even more important for the ppl who are doing the wrong, that this gets corrected.

  3. Daniel says

    There are some things I agree with in the article but I don’t think it is right and just that someone should be made to clean up after someone else’s mess just for sake of to not appear fair as if unfairness is a positive moral guideline.in and of itself. The article puts it in the manner of so to “remind them that they are not entitled to fairness” but this just makes someone think they are entitled to be cleaned up by others. Also the article suggests that fairness is a trait of the Garden of Eden, but everything in Gan Eden is good, so thus fairness is good while the article explains against fairness thus contradicting itself. I have often heard the mantra of “life is not fair” and it is true in a lot of regards but saying “life is not fair” is no excuse to act injustly towards others.

  4. Kelly says

    God is fair and just! Satan is the one who distorts our mindset to believe God is not. Satan is the one that has given definition to what is fair in this world. God deals with each of us differently because we are all different, just as we should with our children. That is what being fair is. The gift of grace was given to all who would accept his gift. Have you ever heard I will not believe in a God who condemns me to hell….this is an example of complaining about fairness we often hear in adults. I think the whole idea is about where we place our focus and if we have a heart for others and for God or for ourselves. Thinking of ourselves, we want fair….thinking of others we are giving a free gift. But, as for children it is our Job to train them and their little hearts…to think of others not themselves. ( in reference to how we treat people ). God tells us not to envy, when we do our hearts fail to see our own personal blessings from God, that are different, as so are we. So I think, we should be teaching to appreciate our individual blessings, and not to eveny others. With that it allows for us all to have our own victories and others around us can rejoice in them. I try to teach my daughter that she is blessed in ways others are not. God created her special and unique, and blesses her special and unique as he does all of us! And her blessings do not always come at the same time as others. Because God wants us all to feel individually special, because we are. That is why, together as children of Christ we are able to form the Body Of Christ. Because we are different, so are our blessings!

  5. a says

    I kind of disagree too it sounds like God has a hierachy and there is no equality some get more some get less get over it. But i think if you are given to your ability it shouldnt matter what someone else gets. The point is the focus on your task. Also it gives like God plays favorites which ive always wondered bc He does favor ppl But Hes Gd so i mean He can really favor or do whatever He wants.

  6. chioma says

    Thanks for dis article.God is just bt I don’t think fair.if her were then everyonw will go to hell for their sins regardless of if u repent.imagin if Go played fair to those who hav done their best to follow his ways all their life by not accepting those who repent later in their life.

  7. says

    on deeper review of the two words, this all may be coming to the light for me..

    From wikipedia: Just is equitable treatment according to a law or rule. The law of gravity is just, everyone who jumps from a plane without a parachute receives the same result. Fair [ in the common vernacular, not the dictionary definition] is a subjective view of how things should go down based on what I want to happen because of my bias in the situation.

    The dictionary sees it the same but people see it different..so I’m starting to understand better now..i hope the moderator doesn’t mind my incessant delving into this subject.

  8. says

    it is fair though to deny a kid a piece of candy b/c they broke the rules. It’s the same meaning in the word. Look up the two words, it’s the same meaning.

  9. says

    I’m reading more into Calvinism and it’s mentioned much in the Bible..i don’t feel this means God isn’t fair though. God will offer salvation to anyone willing to accept it and cleanse themselves through the blood of Christ, however God knows our path beginning to end before we were even born. It is our free will, but God knows our inner souls from the beginning, and He doesn’t choose the so called worthy people for salvation but He chooses to steer in the very people He knew could be steered in to accept Christ, if that makes sense. Really none of us are worthy but our faith is what we lead us on the right path.

  10. says

    This article led to a lot of personal thought, but what another commenter stated here is really the truth. Just(ice) and fair(ness) are the exact same thing. It is true that life is not fair, because life itself is worldly, you are right to teach your kids to learn the unfairness of life. But God is just and with the exact same meaning in definition he is fair. God knew we were all sinners and prone to sin, He gave us the escape from Hell through our faith in Christ and through our faith in Christ a constant purifying of ourselves away from sin. This was the only *fair* way God could handle it so that we’d have hope.

  11. Cathy Carrion says

    God is not fair by the definition of the word. If He were, we would all be headed straight to hell.

  12. Brittany Stephens says

    This article is so true, I am always saying if we raise our children to beleive life is fair, we are setting them up for a huge rude awakening when they get in the real world, because nothing about life is fair. As parents, it is natural to want to raise your child in a bubble so to speak, and want everything to be perfect and for them not to hurt. However we must remember, everyone has to grow up sooner or later :).

  13. Daniel says

    I disagree… why is it that all will not be saved? If God was fair he would save everyone. However, God doesn’t save everyone, we read that the elect are those which are saved. Tell me, how is that “fair”. I look in the Bible and fine many places were God is just, however nowhere is he a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). God wills as he wishes, without our consult.

  14. Mark Miesse says

    I respectfully disagree with this completely. God is Fair and that is why we are saved. Salvation is a gift there is no doubt about that. But it was paid for. Jesus died so that we could have it. He took the penalty. That is why God is fair. If God were to redeem us without Christ then he would not be fair. This is why Jesus had to die. God could not be fair if he saved people without the penalty being paid. If I were in a courtroom and owed a mortgage company 50k and someone stepped up and paid it for me would I still be deserving of the punishment from the mortgage company? No the debt was paid so things were fair. Justice and Fairnness are one of the same and we serve a Fair God.

  15. Janice says

    Thank you so much for your article! I’m in the middle of preparing for a mid-week “Sunday School” session on the Parable of the Rich Fool. We are a very small group that meets fortnightly after school, and the kids come usually because they are friends of my own kids. Sometimes my husband (who’s the vicar of a number of villages around here) and I feel that we’re always dishing out discipline. Some of the children looked a bit shocked initially we dared to call them to order! But on the whole, they come back, because they do enjoy the sessions and have fun.
    I think here in the UK, the emphasis of the schools are on the rights of the children too much – right to education, right to healthy lifestyle, right to respect, right to achieve… so much so that we celebrate mediocrity. You know, “it’s so unfair I don’t have a trophy!” There doesn’t seem to be the same emphasis on being responsible for your own actions – being responsible for what you say, how you act, how you treat others, how you reach your goal without trampling on others!!! I am so glad that we are not the only ones who think that “being fair” breeds a lack of contentment and an inability to rejoice in others’ happiness, like you say. The fact is, the kids around here may be rich in material goods and always have the latest games, but I’m trying to suggest to them that being rich towards God is worth cultivating. Please say a prayer!! XD

  16. says

    Jared,

    Well said! I think that most people who think that God sending anyone to Hell is unfair ignore the fact that we all deserve to be there and it is only by his grace that we are not. Very unfair if you think about it, but I am quite glad that he works it out that way. :) Thanks for the comment!

  17. says

    I had a professor in college who always said, “Life is not fair, but God is faithful.” You’re right that God is not fair, but He is faithful and just. Our society has traded “justice” for “fairness.” Doesn’t every kid deserve a piece of candy? Not if they have not obeyed the rules. That is not fair, but it is just. I think the same argument can be made of people who go to hell because they have broken God’s law and refuse to turn to Jesus. This may not be “fair” in the world’s sense, but it is just.

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