“Come on ref’ that’s not fair!” It is a cry that can be heard on a thousand pitches, courts, and running tracks from the lips of everyone from children to professional sportspeople.
Fairness was one of the big talking points of the Rio Olympics. People debated the fairness of Russian athletes competing, boxing judges were sent home for a string of poor decisions, four US swimmers ‘unfairly’ alleged they had been held at gunpoint when in fact they had tried to flee after one of them broke a toilet door, and the UK men’s 4 x 400m relay team were controversially disqualified for allegedly having part of a foot out of the change-over box (to mention but a few controversies).
Sport has a love-hate relationship with justice and fairness. On one hand it cannot function without it, but so much debate circles around the many unfair decisions and outcomes. So what does the Bible say about fairness? Is there any justice in this life? How do we cope when we are on the wrong end of an unjust action or decision?
First, it is worth noticing that the passion for justice is a universal norm. Many people may have discussions about whether there is really any such thing as ‘right and wrong’ but no one debates it when they are the victim of injustice. This is important because generally the Christian doctrine of God’s judgement is perceived negatively. However, when we think about it for a moment we can see what good news it is that “the judge of all the earth [will] do what is right” (Genesis 18:25 – NIV).
Think about our obsession with different camera angles and slow motion replays. Why is so much money invested in seeing an incident several times and from so many different angles? Because there is an innate human desire for justice. But now think how odd this is. Surely one of the great truisms of human experience is that justice is rare and elusive. Even in sport where the boundaries are controlled and with the benefit of modern technology there is so much unfairness. How much more so in life? Even with our best efforts justice more often than not eludes those who seek it. Why then are we so obsessed with something we so rarely (if ever) experience - true justice?
The scriptures are clear. It is because God has implanted a firm sense of His perfect law and justice in our consciences - our longing for justice comes from a perfectly just God. This God will see justice perfectly done - that is what the judgement day is about. All the angles will be replayed, all actions assessed, and all secrets exposed. Justice will be perfect and universal. This is both reassuring and frightening.
How then do we cope with injustice in the meantime? There are two popular reactions, both which lead to a disintegration of justice. First, many people faced with injustice try to take it into their own hands. But as Robert Kennedy (attorney general during his brother JFK’s presidency) said: “Whenever men take the law into their own hands, the loser is the law. And when the law loses, freedom languishes.”
Second, others give up on justice, they shrug their shoulders and say words to the effect of “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won't find any rhyme or reason to it, nor any justice.” (Richard Dawkins).
The Bible shows us a third way – a way to cope with injustice without taking it into our own hands or giving up on it. We are to strive for justice whilst leaving it in God’s hands. Romans 12:19 reads:
“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.” (NIV)
Many find this counter-intuitive. Isn’t God a God of love? Why does it talk here of vengeance?
God is a loving God, but here are two important reflections on this verse:
First, love cannot negate justice. What kind of ‘loving God’ would ignore all the injustice in the world? God’s love is shown in caring about injustice. He will punish it. The wonderful truth is that God the Son willingly pays the price for our injustice Himself so that if we trust in Christ we do not have to face the terrible and just consequences.
Secondly, if we are to forgive others when they wrong us, then we can only do that if we trust in a just God. Our desire for justice is too strong. If we do not think justice is coming, we will take it into our own hands. (That’s why you often get bad tempered sports games when the referee is poor). But if we know that God will be just, and that we are forgiven in Christ, then we can leave justice to God and extend forgiveness to those who wrong us.
Pete Nicholas, Inspire Church London
Pete was appointed to the Board of Trustees in 2017 and is a rugby player by background who now plays touch rugby. Pete is ordained in the Church of England and Minister in Charge of Inspire Saint James Clerkenwell in London.
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