They run excitedly to their mother for help in dividing their treasure.
She empties the bag on the kitchen table. The boys watch intently. Then toward each of them she slides one portion.
Suddenly the four-year-old lets out a mighty yelp. “That’s not fair!” he cries. He’s sure the older brother has more big pieces of candy than he. The older brother contends: “I’m older than you.”
The pleasure of the moment disappears. To settle claims and counterclaims the mother repeats the process. To them, she is the arbiter of fairness, and this time, the younger brother is satisfied.
Where would a four-year-old boy get such a distinct and insistent sense of fairness? He doesn’t even read yet.
Here’s the Christian answer: We humans are made in God’s image and fairness is inherent to the nature of God. The recurrent call for fairness is common to our humanity.
Speaking formally, when we call for fairness we are calling for justice. Justice means having a thorough review of details so as to give each party in a quarrel their dues.
Isaiah writes: For the Lord is a God of justice (Isaiah 30:18,19). He is in his very nature just, and he is the source of all true justice.
Because we are made in God’s image, both the impulse to be fair and our strong expectation to be treated fairly are inborn in us. For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones (Psalm 32:27-29)
In Old Testament times God sent prophets to his people to awaken them to their offenses. If, for example, the rich were cheating their neighbors in business deals and the poor were being impoverished at their hands, the prophets called them to repent before God and be just in their dealings.
Likewise, in New Testament times Jesus rebuked the Pharisees on this matter of fairness: You give a tenth of your spices – mint dill and cumin, he said, But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.
He insisted that both their religious practices and their interpersonal behaviors be above board and just!
Children get their first lessons on justice in their childhood homes if what they count their own is respected there — whether a small toy or a special keepsake.
Susanna Wesley, the mother of John Wesley, knew this. Among her rules in raising her large family, she insisted that no child be allowed to take the possessions of another, be it as little as a pin, without the owner’s permission. That’s how the experience of justice is awakened.
The mother who divided candy carefully between her two boys had an instinct for the importance of what she was doing; she was modeling to them the importance of fair play.
Fair play — justice — should also be practiced in the church — whether in a local congregation or a global denomination. Consider the application of justice in the early church, as recounted in the book Acts chapter 6:
In the early days of the church the Greek-speaking widows were not getting fair treatment in the distribution of relief for the poor. The Apostles did not brush the complaint off.
Rather, they wisely set apart seven men (with Greek names) to see that relief was distributed fairly. This ensured both fairness and the perception of fairness.
Blessed is that Christian body that conducts its business with meticulous attention to justice, honesty, and transparency.
When Uncle Carl gave two little boys a bag of candy, he didn’t know this would cause a disturbance; a four year-old boy set the stage by his unexpected urgent call for a recount; and his mother seized the opportunity to teach them a basic lesson about life.
Photo credit: James Cridland (via flickr.com)