When I was a kid, one of my favorite cereals was KIX cereal. The commercial advertising KIX showed a young girl sitting at her kitchen table with two bowls in front of her, and another girl sitting nearby. The girl then proceeded to count out the number of KIX she was putting in each bowl….1, 2, 3 for you…1, 2, 3 for me, and so on until their bowls were full.
I still think of this commercial every now and then, especially when the topic of fairness comes up, which is often in a house with young kids. It captures how most of us tend to define fairness; both girls end up getting the same amount; neither receives more or less than the other.
A sense of fairness seems to be ingrained in most of us- we don’t want to get slighted or to end up with less than we think we deserve in comparison with someone else. It usually isn’t too far along in life until we hear someone tell us, “Life’s not fair,” or something to that effect. Even still, it’s not something many of us like to hear.
Yet when I was in college, my idea of fairness was overhauled when a special education instructor visited our education methods class. During her presentation she challenged us to think differently about what is fair. “Fair isn’t giving each student the same thing,” she told us. “Fair is giving each student what she or he needs.”
That definition of fairness has stayed with me since, and, like the KIX commercial, often comes to mind. It comes to mind in regards to raising our kids. It comes to mind when I volunteer in my kids’ classrooms. And it comes to mind when I read the Bible as well.
There are many stories in scripture where the characters are intent on things being fair and going the way they want them to. Perhaps the best known of all is the story of the Prodigal Son, in the gospel of Luke. As you may recall, in that story, the younger of two sons demands his share of his father’s inheritance and then goes off and squanders it all. When he’s run out of money, he comes back to his father, who embraces him even while he is still far off and celebrates by throwing a party.
In response to his father’s gratuitousness, the older son is enraged. “Here I’ve been working day in and day out, and you haven’t given me anything!” he rants. To which the father replies, “Son, all that is mine is yours; you’ve had me near you day in and day out. But your brother was lost, and now he’s found– that is reason for me to rejoice.” As both sons learn, their father’s ways are not their ways, but his ways are characterized by mercy and grace.
It makes me grateful that our God is thus inclined as well. Though we are hardwired to want things to be fair, I give thanks that the Lord our God doesn’t give us what is fair but rather goes above and beyond what we deserve and gives us not only what we need, but an abundance of mercy, grace, and love besides.