by Rachel Campbell
“One cut, the other choose”, were the words my parents, like many others, used to encourage my brother and me to share. And it worked! We developed a microscopic accuracy in our ‘sharing’ (and, when you’re raised in a family of two, I can’t stress how important that is), with the added benefit of reducing that most universal of all childhood cries: “It’s not fair!”
Children seem to have an inbuilt sense of fairness or, to be more accurate, unfairness. Few will highlight an unfairness that they have benefitted from, but any perception of missing out draws an objection from even the most unentitled child. And it doesn’t stop in childhood, does it? As adults, “It’s not fair!” thoughts still haunt us. Though we may contain our grievances, unfairness can fester. And in that festering, the specific unfairness – the job we should have got, or the compensation we should have received, or whatever it is – is dwarfed by the bitter and resentful mindset it creates.
My own besetting sense of unfairness has revolved around the issue of my son and exams. His Type 1 Diabetes doesn’t mix well with the adrenaline and stress of exams, and his unseen battles with his own body mitigate against the grades he might otherwise have achieved. Come results day, while I am immensely proud of all that he achieves against the odds, and am quick to tell him that, at the back of my mind “if only” thoughts lurk resentfully – if only he didn’t have Type 1, if only his mind and body could respond reliably to the stresses of studying and exams, if only he had been able to play on a level pitch. Even more ugly is the jealousy that can prowl over the achievements of my friends’ kids who appear to have lesser obstacles than those of my son. It really doesn’t seem fair!
But this is my own subjective response. My son does endure more than many, but those other kids almost certainly have their own unseen battles, and nothing should take away from what they’ve achieved through hard work and natural aptitude; achievements, it should be acknowledged, that occur in an examination system that is itself broadly fair and robust, in which grades are awarded according to merit and not apportioned by bribery, nepotism or any other discrimination. If they were, that would not just be unfair, it would be unjust!
While unfairness can beset us as individuals, injustice is of a far greater magnitude. It protects vested interest by encasing whole swathes of society in soul-destroying subjugation.
And even greater still, injustice conflicts with the nature of God himself. God is just, but His intrinsic justice doesn’t seem to stir our hearts as much as other aspects of God’s character. We preach and sing about God’s love, His faithfulness and His wisdom, but His justice is rarely the substance of our meditations and worship. Yet without an understanding of this attribute of God’s character, can we really fully appreciate all that Christ accomplished on the cross?
The cross is the greatest example of justice that the world has ever seen. Yet from many viewpoints it looks more like a gross miscarriage of justice, brought about by an unholy alliance of Jewish leaders and Roman occupiers who incited the mob to yell, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”. The Hosannas of a few days before had been overlaid with a venomous betrayal that led to Christ’s trial before Pilate, the local representative of Rome, the enforcer of the law that balanced Roman rule with indigenous religious customs. Despite his own misgivings, Pilate washed his hands of justice and, in an act of complicit weakness, surrendered Jesus to the rule of the mob. Barabbas the guilty walked free; Christ the innocent was crucified.
How can this possibly be just?
To help ponder that question, let’s consider the much-referenced scene in Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities where Charles Darnay is in prison awaiting execution, when into his cell walks Sydney Carton. The story hinges on the fact that these two men, Carton and Darnay, are identical in appearance. Carton swaps places with Darnay; Darnay walks out of the cell a free man, and his punishment, death by guillotine, falls instead on Sydney Carton. Carton didn’t take Darnay’s place because he had to; he did it because he chose to. As far as the authorities were concerned, they had their man; the crime had been atoned for. Justice had been satisfied through Darnay doing “a far, far better thing” than he had ever done.
In a far greater way than Dickens’s depiction, Christ became our substitute. He became human like us, with the same physical needs and appearance, but with one crucial difference, one vital aspect that differentiated him from everyone else – He was without sin. In the greatest act of justice ever seen, Christ the guiltless One chose to take our punishment upon himself. The punishment of sin wasn’t evaded, it wasn’t ignored, or swept under the carpet. It was paid – in full! And we, like Charles Darnay, get to walk away free. It had to be that way. If there was no punishment for sin, no consequences for the wrongs we have done or the injustices of the world, then God would not be just.
Now this might provoke the response, “So what?” How does this aspect of God’s character impact the way I live? Well, as believers we should be known as those who value and pursue justice in whatever capacity we are confronted with injustice, be that in areas of race, or gender, or poverty, or wherever. And though we may feel that our contributions often seem inconsequential, our encouragement to keep going is found in the truth that not one injustice will escape God’s judgement: “Yes, Lord God Almighty, your judgements are true and just.” (Rev 16:7)
Rachel Campbell is from the UK; she is married to New Zealander Grant and they have three children. In recent years she has undertaken a ministry course and an MA in Theology. Rachel believes God’s gift of life in all its fullness is found in family, friendships, community, and God’s wonderful Word and world. She tweets at @OurRachToo and can be found on Instagram @rachel_e_campbell.