From the OT lesson for Thursday in the week of Easter 7
25 Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?
I recall a law school class in which a fellow student complained of a case’s result, “But that’s not fair!” The professor’s reply was, “Fair? If you want fairness, go to divinity school.” A dozen years later, I was in seminary and a fellow student complained of a story in Scripture, “But that’s not fair!” The professor’s reply was, “Fair? If you want fairness, go to law school.” I laughed until I cried, but couldn’t get the others in the class (especially the professor) to appreciate the humor. ~ I suspect that my law school instructor was suggesting that fairness is justice ameliorated by mercy. In law school we are taught that human laws are like mathematical algorithms; you comb through the facts of your case, find the salient elements, plug them into the law like variables into an algorithm, and out pops your result. For example, common law burglary is legally defined as the breaking and entering of the dwelling place of another in the nighttime for the purposes of committing a crime therein. Was the door standing open so that the accused was able to simply walk in? No “breaking,” hence no burglary. Did the incident happen at high noon? Not “in the nighttime,” hence no burglary. What if you have all the elements but the motivation, for example if the crime anticipated was the taking of bread to feed a starving child, is laudable? Too bad, the elements being present the accused is guilty of burglary, laudable merciful goal notwithstanding. ~ I suspect my seminary instructor was suggesting that fairness is a human concept inapplicable to God. “God works in mysterious ways,” as my grandmother used to say. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord,” according to Isaiah. When our human sense of justice demands retribution and God’s mercy permits an offender to go off scot-free, we say “unfair.” Worse, when an offense seems rather minor but God’s law demands death, we say “unfair.” Our human sense of equity is offended. ~ I’ve been a member of the Bar for over 30 years now, and a priest (as of next month) for 24; I’m still not sure about fairness and justice, and how the concepts apply in both human and divine law. I am sure, though, that when all is said and done I hope to receive neither from the hand of God; I hope I will receive mercy instead.