On February 23, 2013

Everyday Idolatry: A Fair God

“Americans are so enamored of equality, they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.” -Alexis de Tocqueville

Temple in Chennai, India

His name was Fred, and he was passionate about justice, he was passionate about equality and fairness. And so after Fred got his law degree, and became a civil rights lawyer. For years Fred served and fought for dis-enfranchised people who were being treated un-fairly. Eventually the NAACP gave him an award for the way he fought for the rights of African-Americans.

And then Fred Phelps left civil law and planted a church.

The Westboro Baptist Church.

The God-hates-fags-America-soldiers-and anyone-who’s-not-a-Phelps-church.

Most of us hear that and realize something went horribly wrong. But if we become what we worship, maybe it’s not that surprising. Because the end of idolatry is always bad.

Now most of the time when we think of idolatry, we think of primitive statues and ancient times. But idols are all around us, and they are in fact never bad things, just mis-ordered things. And that’s especially true with this particular idol.

More than Fair

Sometimes when I hear people talk about justice, I realize that, while we care about similar things, I find that I don’t want to be like them. Some of the people who have dedicated their lives to great endeavors, found themselves being incredibly angry. And I can understand why. Because we become like what we worship, and if you find yourself constantly bitter or angry maybe a question to ask is “What god am I worshipping?”

Back in the day of Jesus, there was actually several different gods of for fairness and justice. One was named Mazda, and he went on to develop a line of cars.The Roman’s had a Goddess for fairness named Equitas. And she was represented by a set of balanced scales.Equitas

Fred Phelps really did set out to change the world, he fought for justice. But it’s possible to be right in very wrong kinds of ways, it’s possible to serve God but worship an idol. And it will never end well.

I can’t tell you how often I hear people talk about God or Church or whatever it is, and I find myself asking, “Wait, are we talking about the God of the Bible? Do you think that God is fair? Because that is a huge American value, but not so much a description of God in the Scriptures.”

Think about the stories that Jesus tells that sit poorly with us, for example here or here.

One of the things about fairness, is that we rarely pull that word out when it doesn’t serve us somehow. Nobody ever says, “Oh Why God, why have you been so unfair to me? Why do I have so….much? Why do I have a roof over my head and access to food everyday, when so much of the world doesn’t?”

In his book, Whine the Beloved Country, James Glassman points out the U.S.A. is the wealthiest and whiniest civilization that the world has ever seen.:

  • The U.S. Gross Domestic Product is more than the total of the next five countries.
  • Americans work fewer hours, and have more cars, cultural institutions, and children in college than ever before.
  • And we whine more now than ever before.
  • We have aisles set aside just for dog food in our grocery stores. 1/3 of the world doesn’t have grocery stores at all.

Be careful with how you use the word fair.

Here’s the question that I never hear people ask, “Why shouldn’t we bear in the suffering of the world?”

No one gets an exemption from hardship in this world, and the Bible never minimizes suffering or unfairness. The sections like Lamentations or Job or the Psalms bear witness to that. But I like the way Philip Yancey says this, “What the Bible does (do) is simply ask us to withhold final judgment until all the evidence is in…And then it tells us that God is with us in our suffering.”

He’s more than fair. He’s good.

What’s It To You?

There’s a time toward the end of the Gospel of John where Jesus is talking with Peter. It’s after Peter has denied Jesus, and Jesus is forgiving him and calling him to serve and lay down his life…literally, Jesus tells Peter that there is day coming that he will be killed for following him. And Peter didn’t ask Jesus to take it away, or change that. Instead he looked at the other apostle John, and said, “What about him?”

I love that Peter did that. Because it’s exactly what most of us would have done. “Sure Jesus, I can be a martyr. I’ll get crucified upside down…as long as that guy over there does too.” And Jesus responds by saying,

“If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

I love that Jesus says this: “What’s it to you?” Jesus isn’t promising fair. The call of Jesus isn’t a cattle call. He’s not Mazda, he’s not Equitas. And if you begin to think he is than your world gets really, really small.

We become the religious older brother angry because we just realized who the Father was, and how unfair life is. We become the church that boycotts everything because we started out with the wrong idea of God, and then took it to it’s logical conclusion.

And the danger of worshipping this idol is that you’ll never know it.

Because you can find plenty of verse about God’s passion for justice and equity, but don’t mistake that for a God of fairness.

God that was revealed by Jesus is more than fair, He’s grace. He’s the Father that runs to a prodigal, giving us what we don’t deserve.

And to some that is news worth throwing a party for, and for others it’s news that makes us want to sulk and pout.

What’s it to you?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/pedroemose Peter Mosley

    I never understood how the fact that others have it worse is supposed to make me feel like I should have it worse, or happy that I have it better.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    That’s a good instinct Peter, I think it’s a much better way to be human.

  • Steve Greek

    Jonathan, thank you for helping me to bring Godly fairness into focus. The two stories you cited that challenge our ideas of “fairness” are difficult to process for those of us who relate to the “top-side” of the stories. For those who see the world “from below,” the ones who receiving the undeserved treatment, mercy, compassion, and grace, these unfair stories sound like good news. Great blog entry!

  • Steve Greek

    I should add, all of us should recognize our dire situation without a loving, merciful judge. I am not hoping for “fair”, but rather grateful for God’s love. I hope I can always see the world “from below,” from the perspective of the poor, sick, weak, and discouraged.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Steve, I think that’s right. Grace is really good if you realize how much you need it. I think it’s why religious people didn’t appreciate Jesus, not because they didn’t need God but because they didn’t realize how much they did.

  • http://twitter.com/empathicteacher Jennifer Isgitt

    I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot lately, so I’m so glad that you wrote about it. I wonder if the concept of worshiping fairness is a symptom of always comparing ourselves to other people: the old coveting-whatever-your-neighbor-has issue. Instead of holding up our lives in light of God’s vision for the world and for His calling on our lives, we are so easily emotionally controlled by what other people are doing or what they have(or what their internet avatars seem to be doing or having). Not just material goods, but success in any endeavors they might be pursuing. It’s hard to stay focused on God’s calling on MY life and to remember that my “labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    That’s good Jennifer, I like the idea of fairness tied to coveting or envy. Especially in a culture of consumerism.