“Its not fair.” We have all heard the expression as our kids stomp off to bed, protesting the latest perceived parental injustice. They are not the only ones.
The adults in the room have also appealed to the phrase. When our boss asks us to stay an hour late, we talk about how unfair so and so is. When Bob takes our tool, we want it back. We don’t want his; just ours. We don’t expect Sally to come to both the wedding and the bridal shower. But since we went to her wedding, we expect her to attend at least one of our events. Nothing crazy; just what we are owed. We long for fairness.
A Slap for A Slap
The God of the Bible affirms that the idea of fairness and equity should govern human legal systems. The judicial system should handout punishment that is proportional to the crime the person has committed. The punishment should consider neither the criminal’s nor the victim’s social standing (Lev. 24:17-22). Moses instructs the first judges of the new Israelite nation to do the following: “then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Punishment was never to exceed the harm caused by the crime. The justice system should be just.
Because the idea of fairness works well when applied to the courts, the religious leaders of Jesus’s day believed fairness could serve as the perfect ethic for interpersonal relationships. If the guy sitting next to you in school posts an unflattering picture of you on Instagram, you could post a Tik Tok video mocking his outdated shoes. Two videos would be excessive, but one would be permitted. If your brother bit you, you could bite him back. And if your boss took credit for your new idea, you had the right to talk behind his back for a day. Slap for slap, insult for insult, and hurt for hurt.
The Better Way
Though this idea of an eye for an eye resonates with the human heart, it stands at odds with the ethic of the kingdom of God. Instead of telling his followers to fight insult with insult, Jesus commands Christians to fight the fires of Hell with the grace filled foam of meekness and generosity. Jesus says, “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil (Matt 5:44).”
Jesus shifts personal relationships from the ethic of fairness and equity to the ethic of meekness and generosity because this is the basis of his interactions with us. When Jesus saves, he saves through his merciful and generous love. Where he to give us what we deserved, he would dispense punishment and death. But he does not send bolts of lightening to usher us into the fires of hell the moment we think our first bad thought. He lives, dies, and rises again to pay the penalty for that evil thought and all our sins. The apostle Peter sums up the gospel writing, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (2 Pt 2:24).” Moreover, we were not actively seeking Jesus. We were lost sheep like those who walked under Jesus’s cross mocking our savior. Jesus patiently endures these insults and then brings us into the sheep fold. Jesus does not fight fire with fire. He does not treat us fairly. He does something far greater. He triumphs over sin, enduring it and generously extending grace to overcome it.
Because of the cross, Christians should resist the urge to fight fire with fire (Matt 5:38-44). When someone insults the believer with a slap across the cheek, Jesus tells his listeners to turn the other cheek. Instead of responding with their own pithy putdown, they quietly endure evil. If their business partner wrongfully sues to gain more shares of their company, Jesus tells the believer to quickly go to court and settle. When the government demands that you carry a soldier’s equipment for a mile or that you must give your land to the new freeway development, the Christian should go settle, going the extra mile to preserve peace. And if a friend or family members ask for $1000 because they recently lost their job, the believer writes the check without asking for repayment or giving the stink eye. The believer does not stand upon the principle of fairness, for he realizes that his salvation, his spouse, his reputation, and his stuff come from God’s mercy. Moreover, he knows that God will justly deal with all sin one day. Either the penalty for sins will be covered in the blood of the cross or it will be extracted from the wicked in Hell. God will also restore what the righteous have lost a million times over. The Christian does not have to fight fire with fire for she is a child of the king. He will prosecute vengeance and preserve our reward19
Is Government Bad?
Though the Christian should not respond to relational violence with his own aggression, he can still lay claim to government structures for protection in cases of extreme violence. Just as God instituted divorce as a merciful means of saving innocent spouses from being entrapped to an adulterer, God instituted governments to protect innocent people from vicious displays of violence. In other words, the reality that most people do not operate according to the ethic of Jesus necessitates the existence of the of government. When the ethic of non-violence fails to prevent a person from doing great harm, those in jeopardy should call the police and appeal to the justice system. Paul did as much when the Jews attempted to wrongfully condemn him to death. The apostle Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 13:4, “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” Women being terrorized by an abuser can seek a restraining order and police protection. Soldiers can defend their shores from invasion. A store owner being robbed can call the police. Christians can appeal to government for help as the Apostle Paul did repeatedly. God ordained human governments for the good of his people.
But even in this sphere, the believer should not seek vengeance. A police officer who comes to a shoplifting call and pays for the teenager’s $15 of stolen food to prevent him from spending months in juvenile detention has lived out the ethic of Jesus. Meekness and generosity belong in every sphere of life, including government.
May God help us all to generously extend mercy!