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Fairness is Overrated…

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

For the past few decades, the big trend in corporate America has been “pay for performance.” In other words, the more you do on the job or the better your results for the organization – the greater your compensation.

The underlying idea of this trend has been a fundamental component of capitalism since its inception.

For example, the more a sales representative sells, the higher their bonus. When a professional athlete performs exceptionally on the field, court, track or ice, their pre-negotiated contract incentives are triggered to produce a cash windfall as well as larger advertising endorsements.

Even our children are indoctrinated into this pay-for-performance mentality when we encourage them to study and pay attention in class. Such conduct enables them to get good grades, which will enable them to graduate high school and get into a good college, followed by a good job…et cetera.

Additionally, we can expect politicians to excessively play the “fair and equitable” card this election season by playing to our dependence on this model when they make statements such as, “everyone needs to pay their fair share…” or “to be fair, there need to be equal cuts across all programs…” or “those who earn the most, have an obligation to pay the most – it’s only fair.

The reason why this pay-for-performance belief is so embedded within our culture is because we think it’s an equitable and fair model for life. Simply stated, if you do good work and work hard – then you’ll be rewarded accordingly; however, if you’re a lazy slacker who causes problems and doesn’t contribute or advance the group – you won’t be.

As a culture we universally embrace “pay for performance” because we believe it’s fair.

Perhaps that’s the main reason why it’s currently unpopular and out of vogue in America to believe in God – because God is not fair. In other words, He doesn’t give us what we deserve or have earned.

Specifically, the Judeo-Christian God does not reward us for how good we are; what we can do for Him; how holy we try to be or any other religious trappings that humans try to conjure up as a way to earn our own redemption. The reason being is that we can’t earn it.

Consider the following passages from the Old Testament that explain why God is not fair as we understand and apply the concept of fairness.

  • Psalm 103:10 – “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.”
  • Lamentations 3:22 – “The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.”

The reason that God does not treat us fairly as we deserve, is because He wants more than that for us – He wants to treat us better than we deserve. According to the scriptures, He wants to forgive us, to love us and be reconciled with us.

But rather than embrace and accept this unearned gift, we tend to dismiss it as too good to be true because it’s seemingly irrational, it doesn’t make sense and we can’t wrap our pay-for-performance minds around it.

Maybe that’s why it takes faith to believe that God is ultimately unfair – of that I’m fairly certain.

Question: None of us gets it right 100% of the time, taking that into account would you rather serve a fair or unfair God?

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  1. >To be honest, I was very intrigued by the title of this writing. When I saw it, my initial reaction was – of course he is. He is a just and a fair God…but, wow – what a way to get me thinking! With this, you are right on so many levels. In that respect, I am GLAD he's not fair – giving us what we truly deserve. Wow, that's a way to think about our being worthy of His love and salvation. I can definitely relate. Like you said, we live in a world where we are rewarded by experience and how much we know. It's hard to comprehend how, in a world where you don't get unlimited chances to either fail or succeed, that we could be loved and wanted by a God of a billion+ chances. While it does not make sense in the way we have grown to know and ultimately accept as normal, I am thankful that He is God, and loves us all the same. Anyway, thanks again for the thought-provoking writing!

  2. >@Laura, I appreciate you giving this post a "chance" ;-) As always, thanks for sharing your thoughtful comments!

  3. >You're absolutely right. Everything happens for a reason…even bad things. God doesn't promise bad things won't happen to good people, but he does promise to comfort you, guide you through, and not to give you more than you can handle. He knows what you are capable of handling better than you know yourself. When you face something that doesn't seem fair in life you have to make the best of it. Learn from the experience. Become wiser to help better your future or maybe the future of someone else. It's a way of turning the negative into positive. There will always be negatives in life that don't seem fair. It's how you handle them that is important.

    My oldest daughter was molested at age 3. I used to wonder what did she do to deserve that? Life isn't fair. Why her?

    After going through two different courts for 2 1/2 years and learning how the courts were supporting and protecting the criminal rather than the victim. I was told my daughter didn't have very many rights because she was under the age of 12 and could not give a statement in court. It was his word against hers and his was the only one that would count.

    They said I had never been through a case like this before. They had been through hundreds of them and were the experts. I was supposed to let them do whatever they wanted because of that and just agree to do whatever they said.

    I refused to do what they told me. It wasn't fair. A three year old should have rights, too. They may know the laws and systems better than me, but who knew my daughter better?

    I was supposed to just accept a 6 month plea bargain and be done. County jail for 6 months…probably paroled in 4.

    I fought the system as naive as I was to the way it worked never giving up faith and hope no matter how bad things seemed at the time. He ended up with 2 years in a state prison without parole followed by 3 years in a half way house.

    Sometime we are never meant to know the reason why. Other times we can sit back and look at the past and figure out exactly why.

    My daughter was very open, honest,advanced for her age, friendly, and outspoken. I believe this gave her what she needed to be able to speak up where another child might have been afraid to to do so. I was strong enough to fight the system and stand up for what I believed in while another parent may have accepted that 6 month plea bargain just wanting to sweep the family skeletons into a closet and be done with it. We were strong enough to fight the system the way it needed to be fought.

    This opened the eyes of many experts at the time. As the inexperienced and naive parent who had never handled a case like this before I can not even tell you how many times I heard the different experts say to me, "I never thought of that." I was shocked. You have handled how many hundreds of cases and never thought of that? The more I heard that phrase the less shocked I became. I think we were chosen for that hard ship and long battle to open the eyes of those that needed to rethink how they did their jobs. To open minds of those who didn't want to think beyond the technicalities to see the real person and their feelings. Another victim or parent may not have had the same results we had.

    Not fair…but justifiable in the end. We can't see the future to know how the end will work out for us. Only God can see that. So when things aren't fair you need to have trust, courage, and confidence. Keep going and never give up faith and hope. All will work out the the way it is supposed to in the end.

  4. >@Tammy, that's an incredible story of survival and tenacity against the odds. As you stated, often times it's our reaction to the unavoidable tragedy and loss (that affects each of us in differing degrees and ways in this life) that provides a context for healing.

    We can then extend that healing and learning to others who are in pain, which can transform the orignal hurt and loss into something else entirely. That "something else" can possibly be shared and ultimately benefit many more people than the initial, painful cause.

    Thanks for being so candid. You may never know this side of eternity who it may have helped.

  5. >You're welcome. I think just sharing the story helps many to understand that God is more complex than just karma. Many are under the false impression that good things happen to good people and bad things to bad people. So many people reject Christianity based on this alone. They believe that if they are dong what it right and bad things happen then there must not be a God. So sad people quite often can not see beyond the negative enough to maintain faith throughout the bad times when they really need it the most. This is one of my favorite stories:


  6. >@Tammy, great perspective and thanks for the link!

  7. >You're welcome!

  8. Well, let’s see here. Corporations use pay for performance- except for their executives, where pay seems to have neither rhyme nor reason applied. Company’s profits down- executive pay is high. Company’s laying off people to save money- executive pay is increased. So, fairness is espoused as a means to deny employee just compensation, all too often.
    The bible clearly and unequivocally demands justice be fairness. Tzedek, Tzedek tirdof- pursue justice. It demands that we treat the poor and the rich, the weak and the powerful in exactly the same fashion- with penalties for judges who don’t. (So much for the supposed Judeo-Christian ethic of the United States).
    What the bible does say is that we cannot fathom the actions of the Supreme Being. And, as such cannot discern what is fair that is done by the SB. For example, if a baby is taken from us, we are beeft and wonder why the SB would allow this. Do we know if the baby survived another week, month, or year, it would not have been subjected to abject pain and suffering, so this was a fair and just act by a merciful SB?
    No, WE must treat each other fairly and justly (hear that, 1%?)- that is our requirement. And the basis, albeit not the practice, of our constitutional provisions.

    • I really like how you separate the idea of fairness of “man-to-man” and “man-to-G*d” – the difference is an important distinction that went beyond my initial post. Thanks Roy!

  9. Anonymous says:

    I recently grappled with issues of fairness as I re-entered the corporate world after a period of unemployment and running my own start-up business.

    As many talented, smart people I know have struggled to find work, I sought out one job prospect, used my connections at the company to land an interview and was very quickly hired. The position is within a Sales organization that runs on targets and incentives based on performance, yet I straddle this world and am paid (rather well) otside of hard targets most are held to.

    When I think back to the people I met and worked with while unemployed and running my own business, many were well-educated, underemployed and talented people. In my new job, I asked myself “why me? what did I do to land this job when so many others cannot.” Luck? Networks? Education? Knowledge? Skill? Drive? Fairness?

    In some ways, I think I gave myself over to faith in taking the leap. I’m not an “old guy with a beard sitting in the clouds” kind of believer, but what I do believe is that God (and life) is not inherently fair and it is only what we are able to put into it and draw out of it is how we square a balance of fairness in life and faith.

    • Kimber, great thoughts! Somewhere between your varied interests, family, work and other commitments – you should be writing and sharing your ideas with others. Just my opinion :-)

  10. Excellent post, Tor! I was watching Alcatraz last night, and the ‘Warden’ asked one of the ‘inmates’ to explain the difference between spirituality and religion. He said that spiritual individuals are looking for answers and religion is more focused on reward. I had never thought about it before, but I believe he was right. I’ve been to many churches of all denominations, and they all seemed to be focused more on ‘getting a pass into heaven,’ rather than calling upon themselves to do good for the sake of doing so. We’re defined by what we do when no one else is looking. Fair is definitely overrated.


  11. Boy, I’d be in trouble if God treated me “fairly” (pay for performance)… I’m so thankful His ways are greater than our understanding.

  12. Amen and amen. I’m glad our God is not fair – who could stand if treated as our sins deserve? Great message and so well put.

  13. So we are serving an “unfair” God? But One that gives mercy and grace? I’m ok with that.

    Perspective, no?


  14. I’m done with the “unfair” God. I’ve pondered the thought that there is no fairness or justice outside of God. Since He has Justice, is justice e can determine how to apply it to my life. I wrote a post one time called “With Liberty and Justice for All, except me.”

    Good words, Tor.

  15. Hi Tor,

    Good article! I’d rather serve a fair God. It seems wrong to think of God as unfair. Sure, what happens to us in life is unfair but saying God is unfair is an oxymoron, isn’t it?

    Nicole Luongo
    Author of Naked Desires, a poetic diary straight from the heart.

  16. Madonna Robinson says:

    I don’t believe that God has anything to do with it. I believe we reap the rewards of karma, whether it be from this lifetime, a past life or family karma which we choose to take on for own growth.

    My concept of God is different to yours in that I don’t believe that he sits in judgement and dispenses any kink of justice. We create it ourselves. God is the creator of all. We are the judges.

  17. Good article Tor it raises interesting thoughts. Heres my take on God:

    I believe God to be all loving thus incapable of judgement. I also believe that he does not control the outcomes of things, this has to do with our karma and interactions with each other and other lifeforms. This God is within us for our guidance and support. He has died for our sins(mistakes) this does not mean that we still will not have consequence to our choices. He blessed us with freewill which allows for errors. I do not see him as a condemning God that says believe in me or else. That would be unfair and not worthy of believing in. Because of this I see him as fair God.

    Louie http://runlourun.com/

  18. Calsunflower says:

    As a mother, I hear “That’s not fair!” all too often. So in the 16 or so years I’ve been dealing with this concept on a child’s level, I have had the opportunity to think the idea of fairness through.

    “Fair” doesn’t mean equal. As no two children are the same, a parent can not treat them equally. Fairness in this case would most closely correlate with rightness and appropriateness in the situation. That would include just rewards and penalties according to an objective standard.

    So, fairness also has to do with boundaries and rules. No one likes a cheater. We are outraged when someone sidesteps the rules and takes a shortcut from the set path. We don’t want anyone else to “break the rules.” But we have to realize that the human race is constantly “breaking the rules,” whether we realize it or not because God, who made each of us, has set the rules, and we don’t follow them–in fact are rebelling against them. If he was totally “fair,” we would all be instantly penalized. As it is, He gives us so many good things–comfort, health, relationships–even, our very lives.

    From one perspective, God is fair because he has exacted Justice from Jesus Christ, and gives me His righteousness and rescues me from my own imperfect, sinful, self-righteousness. His love works with his justice to arrange it so.

    But if you are only looking at the rules and penalties, it is so outrageously unfair that Bod would put the penalty for my rule-breaking on someone else–Jesus Christ–and give me all the rewards that perfection brings.

    From that perspective, I’ll take unfair any day!

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