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Fairness Counts (February 2016)


by Wye Huxford

Despite both growing up hearing it and saying it to my own children as a parent, the old adage "Life isn't fair" doesn't speak to how life ought to be, but how life sometimes is.  Followers of Jesus should never be satisfied with that idea as a description of how things ought to be.

As a child growing up, I spent lots of time with my paternal grandparents who lived less than a mile down the country road from my parents' house.  I suspect it had something to do with the favored status I perceived I occupied with my grandparents, the fascination with the farm, and the reality that grandparents are generally easier on kids than parents.

I remember lots of lessons from those days.  In addition to being a dairy farmer, my grandfather grew crops that required lots of manual labor and back in those days, that meant people's livelihood was typically earned in doing this kind of work.  Nearly always people were paid at the end of the day, every day.  My grandmother would often remind my grandfather of the warning in James 5:4.  "Listen!  The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts"  (NRSV).  I don't think she did that because my grandfather was dishonest, but because she wanted to make sure everyone was treated fairly – justly.

That whole paragraph in James 5:1-6 is one that any of us living in modern culture ought to review occasionally.  It is all about treating people justly.  While James' specific illustration seems to speak to the issue of paying just wages, it seems to me that the overriding principle in play is whether or not I treat people in every context of life justly.  In a culture where manual labor was predominant, it is no surprise that James uses the idea of paying just wages as the vehicle in which he reminds his readers of just treatment of others.  He surely is thinking about Deuteronomy 24:14, 15.  Or to use Jesus' words, the need to treat others in the context of loving God and loving neighbor.

Do I treat students in my classes justly?  If not, will their voices cry out in judgment?  What about restaurant owners who pay less than minimum wage in the name of "tips make up the difference"?  Or even more personally for most of us the customers in restaurants who tip so poorly there is no way we help "make up the difference."  Then there is the bureaucratic reach of government employees who seem to enjoy being difficult.  And court systems who treat the accused with the kind of disdain that should never be in a believer's heart.  And banks whose interest rates far exceed reason.  Or businesses who resort to price gouging in times of disaster and who sell inferior products at outrageous prices.

Of course it is easy simply to say "that's how the system works."  "Capitalism isn't perfect, but it's better than any alternative, so too bad about the abuses."  "The courts are supposed to punish the guilty, so tough luck if you're caught in the system."  "It's not my fault she can get a job only at some local mom and pop, meat-and-two-vegetables kind of place."

All the while, we watch our own treasures increase and fail to hear the cries of those treated unjustly that reach the ears of the Lord of the hosts.

"But I'm not rich" becomes our immediate mode of defense.  Yet compared to those who first read James, we are all pretty rich – and we dare not dismiss these words so casually.

I didn't realize it growing up, but looking at life from this end of the journey, I 'm grateful for the regular reminder of my grandmother that justice matters – and it always matters.  If justice matters, I won't become rich at the expense of laborers; and I won't become powerful at the expense of the marginal; I won't pad my resumé at the expense of the accused; and I won't excuse myself because "that's the way things are."

Life really isn't fair – but that is no excuse for a believer to contribute to the unfairness.


by Beth Langstaff

In December, we had a special presentation at the New Testament Colloquium, one which drew many visitors, both students and professors.  Professor Bruce McCormack from Princeton Theological Seminary and Professor Alexandra Pârvan from the University of Pitesti in Romania took turns reading a paper they had written together on "Immutability, Impassibility and Suffering: Steps toward a 'psychological ontology' of God." The paper was unusual in a number of respects: it reflected insights from different disciplines (Bruce McCormack is a systematic theologian and Alexandra Pârvan has degrees in philosophy and psychology); it explored the ways in which Augustine of Hippo and Karl Barth might address the question of "who God is"; and it highlighted points at which both presenters were prepared to take the insights of Augustine and Barth in new and intriguing directions.

McCormack and Pârvan proposed a "psychological" approach to the divine being and attributes.  The answer to the question as to "what God is" is simply "who God is" as he reveals himself to us in Christ. The affirmation that "God is immutable," therefore, cannot be discussed or defined apart from the way in which God reveals himself and relates to us human beings in Christ. Suffering is not incompatible with God's attribute of always being what he is. God's being-for-us, for human beings, in love, sacrifice, and suffering is thus an eternal part of God's being, of who God is.

The paper provoked a long and lively discussion.  Professor emeritus Jürgen Moltmann, who attended the session, raised the first and last questions of the evening. Informal conversations continued long after the evening had come to an official close.