Children often have an innate sense of fairness, though sometimes it gets skewed in a selfish way when they don’t get what they want. But when they are viewing a situation that only involves others, they seem to know what’s fair and what’s not.
The lex talionis – the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” sense of fairness Moses probably co-opted from Hammurabi’s code – views wrongs as something that can only be made right by an action of equal wrong repaid as vengeance. In this way a sense of fairness, justice, “setting things right” occurs and peace is restored.
Much of civilization is built upon this principle – that in order to set things right, wrongs must be punished (but no further than the wrongs inflicted). Capital punishment is intended to enact justice based on this principle.
The way of Jesus, as usual, dramatically differs in its sense of justice. Setting things right in the “kingdom of heaven” does not take the form of enacting a punishment of equal intensity. Fairness has nothing to do with insuring the punishment fits the crime. Jesus’ sense of justice, fairness, righteousness (literally “setting things right”, like a broken bone) is actually embedded in what is commonly called The Lord’s Prayer:
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Think about it: when someone wrongs us, when there is a grievance that needs to be “set right”, the fair thing to do in Jesus’ society is to forgive.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the one who did the wrong can’t attempt restitution as a show of repentance; such restitution was mandated by Moses in the Torah. But restitution is no longer required in Jesus’ society. Forgiveness is our obligation, not vengeance.
This is damned hard.
It conflicts with our innate, childish sense of fairness.
Until we further consider…
… that if we desire God to treat us with mercy and forgiveness for every time we did not get the “justice” we deserved, we should (like God) be willing to extend that same kind of mercy to all, regardless of the wrong.
Fairness is not based on person-to-person injustice, but more on person-to-God mercy. It’s a totally different foundation, and I daresay the only foundation upon which lasting peace can be built. Forgiveness in light of all that we’ve been forgiven for.
Sure, maybe you haven’t murdered… but Jesus said anger is tantamount to murder and we need to let go of anger; the only thing keeping many of us back from murder (including myself) is the opportunity.
The same thing is true for overindulgence of the appetites, especially sexual. To Jesus, lust is tantamount to infidelity. To our society, lust is tantamount to selling product – it’s a way of marketing. Coveting (wanting something you don’t have) is how our economy rolls. We constantly live in this tension, and quite often succumb to the temptations that surround us, that lie to us, and that ultimately enslave us and harm others.
What’s fair? How do you really set things right? What is true justice in the context of the kingdom of heaven?
Forgiveness. It’s the new “Fair”.