“It just isn’t fair.” How often we hear those words, or utter them ourselves, and in so many contexts, ranging from NCAA football rankings to the problem of evil. When our sense of justice is offended, we sometimes express our indignation with these four simple words. Justice is defined generally as giving to each its due. And when we complain about the injustice of a situation, it is because we believe that someone has not received what they deserve. When a good deed goes unrewarded, when a person’s integrity is overlooked, or when a crime goes unpunished, it just isn’t fair.
Well, lately I’ve found myself using this phrase—if only in my mind—in a different way, to express my incredulity at how blessed I am. It isn’t fair that I should have a wonderful family, a decent house, a satisfying job, good health, fine friends, etc. As I count my blessings, it’s really overwhelming that a flawed mortal like me should be lavished with such gifts. But, of course, the injustice is more profound than this. Given original sin—that natural state of rebellion into which we all are born—it isn’t fair that God should even allow us to take a single breath on this planet, much less to enjoy ourselves and have fulfilling relationships. If God were to give us all what we deserve, well, we’d all have been vaporized early on. But, thankfully, “he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10).
If it is unjust when someone is not given their due, then the Christian gospel is founded on a sort of injustice. That God would condescend to redeem fallen humanity, to take our sin upon himself, and to rescue us from our rebellion is unfair to the extreme. We call this injustice “grace”-a profoundly unmerited favor. But it is precisely because we benefit from this injustice that rarely, if ever, do we think to declare it is unfair. Just as we call a “good deal” a purchase in which we receive more than our money’s worth, we are likely to categorize the Gospel similarly. When Jesus atoned for our sins, we got a “good deal,” right? Yes, in the sense that we benefit in unfathomable ways. But the truth is that it isn’t fair. In fact, it is unfathomably unfair that the almighty, holy God would humble himself by taking on human form and then suffer a criminal’s death for the sake of those whose sin begat such evil in the first place.
Of course, there is justice in the atonement in the sense that—through our mystical union with Christ—the crucifixion and death of Jesus satisfied God’s wrath. But the mindblower is that God would take this step to begin with, that he would subject his only begotten Son to such unspeakable torture for our sake. Amazing grace, indeed. And it’s more to be thankful for than we can possibly comprehend, even if, strictly speaking, it just isn’t fair.