Just vs. FairUsing the parable of the prodigal son (and/or any other story/example from the gospels), can you make a case that God is "just" but not "fair."  Or is it possible to make a case that...

Just vs. Fair

Using the parable of the prodigal son (and/or any other story/example from the gospels), can you make a case that God is "just" but not "fair."  Or is it possible to make a case that God is both "just" AND "fair"?  Thoughts?

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Good question. I don't know that we see God's justice in this life. And I don't know that we always see fairness in this life. What's the old saying, "Nobody said life was fair"? There are plenty of times that life doesn't seem fair. You work really hard, your co-worker does not, and some how he (or she) gets the kudos. Justice is many times something we don't see in our daily lives. Look at the news and criminals whose sentences are far beneath the crime, or who walk on a technicality. For some people, justice may not be served until the next life. We don't always get what we deserve, in both positive and negative ways.

I remember 8th grade. My favorite [science] teacher told us not to talk during a test. Someone spoke to me and I said that we weren't allowed to talk. First rule in the classroom? Second talker generally gets caught. I did. Got my only detention in junior high school. Was it fair? I don't think so. Was it just? Yes, because my teacher had told us the rules. I could have put my finger to my lips and said nothing. Did I learn a lesson. Yup.

Things will not always be the way we want them, but I don't think that we can "blame" God either. We make choices. Other people make choices. There are many times when one's choices affect others. Are the consequences just or fair? Many times they are not, but we are given the choices to make. If we believed the way Shakespeare and his Elizabethan audiences did, we would expect that we had no control over our lives—that fate had it all mapped out for us. Personally, I don't think that is the case. We can never avoid all the things that strike us as unfair, and we can only hope and pray that our government leaders and court judges try to be as just as our laws will allow.

lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ezekiel 18 questions God's fairness. It states that the parents have committed an action and the children have experienced the consequences:

What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge?

Then it goes on to state that God is fair or treats men equally, depending upon their own actions. God is fair and just. His ways are equal according to Ezekiel 18.

In Matthew 5:45, God shows mercy to the just and unjust:

That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

Considering the fact that the just and the unjust live parallel to one another, how could it not rain on the unjust?

While there are some things that seem unfair, Psalm 37 says Fret not for God has a specific timing for his justice to occur:

1 Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.

2 For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.




amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You could use the story of the reapers to prove that God is just and fair.  He states that the reapers will reap the grain they have worked to sow and nurture, but they are to intentionally drop some of the grain for the poor.  The poor then have the opportunity to walk behind the reapers to collect the grain in order to feed their families.  In this way, everyone eats, but everyone also has to work for it.  There are no hand-outs.  The poor eat, but they can hold their heads up without shame for they have also put in the elbow grease necessary to provide for themselves.  No one just gave it to them without anything in return.

Sounds a lot like what we need to do in our own country, doesn't it?  We need to help people regain their self-respect and to feel as if they have something invested in the aide they receive.  This is both Fair and Just.

clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think if you want to make the case the God is both "just" and "fair," you have to start by defining your terms.  Most people think of fair as equal.  In God's eyes, humans are all equal in that we have all fallen short of his glory (Romans 3:23).  Justice and fairness on God's terms must begin with the fact that humans are sinners and deserve nothing.  Therefore, anything he gives is by his grace and forgiveness.

There are also several NT verses concerning God giving freely to all according to our needs (Phil. 4:19, though this is not the best one out there).  Again, if God defines "fairness" or "justice" than he deems that our equality is based on what we need, not on giving everyone the same blessings nor the same amount of those blessings.

wannam eNotes educator| Certified Educator
It might help to look at the connotation of the word fair rather than simply looking at the definition. When I think of the word fair, I often think of children telling their parents that something isn't fair. Is it fair that the older child gets to go to camp while the younger child doesn't? By definition, yes it is fair. The younger child does not feel like it is fair, thus the connotation of the word is different from the denotation. I see this same type of situation played out in the parable of the prodigal son. The older son has worked hard, but his younger brother, who hasn't worked, is getting a special celebration. From the father's point of view, it is both fair and just. However, from the older brother's perspective, it certainly doesn't seem fair.
larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The parable demonstrates that "fairness" is not a concept by which God is bound. If he were fair, then each worker would have been paid exactly that which he earned. By the same token, if the father of the Prodigal Son were fair, or just for that matter, he would probably have been treated somewhat less favorably than he was in fact. The same applies to God. If God were to use our own concepts of fairness and justice, then all of us would receive exactly that which we deserve. But God's justice is tempered with mercy; his fairness is superseded by love. There is, as was noted above, a tendency to compare ourselves with others; but God does not make comparisons. So the Parable teaches us that God's love and mercy supersede human concepts of fairness and justice.  

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that you could take that parable and the one of the workers in the vineyard to make the case that God is just but not fair.

In both cases, there's an inequality in the ratio of "work" to "reward," right?  The non-prodigal son does everything right and the prodigal son doesn't and still gets the feast.  The workers who signed up early don't get any more pay than those who signed up late.  It really does not seem fair at all.

But you can argue that this is just even if it does not seem fair to us.  You can argue that God is basing his actions on what he sees in the hearts of the people who did wrong but then repented.  It is just for them to be treated well, even if it seems unfair to those who never did wrong.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think justice, in the divine sense, has to be fair, unlike justice here on earth that is so sadly deeply unfair. However, in this parable, we see justice and fairness working together arguably. It is all about perspectives. The elder son feels his father is being unfair in the way that he treats his younger brother, but at the same time he doesn't see how deeply unfair and unjust he is being. He wants his brother named and shamed, whereas he just hasn't understood the justice and fairness implicit in the love of the father.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I, too, thought immediately of the parable of the vineyard workers. It has simply never seemed fair to me that people who work all day get the same wages as those who work for only a short time--probably because I know I would have been one of the all-day workers. And, assuming "fair" means "equal," it is not fair; however, each worker agreed to work for a certain wage. That is what they are paid, and it is just.

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I too consider fair and just by their connotations. Just implies that we receive what we deserve. Fair does not mean equal. Rather it means that a decision is right based upon the individual involved. In the terms of the prodigal son, the wandering son deserved no consideration as he had already used and abused what was his right. However, as an individual, his father gave him what was needed.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator
The parable is more based on the principles of forgiveness and love than justice or fairness. I think you'd be hard pressed to find any family, past or present, that operates soleley on justice and fairness. So I would argue God represents neither of those principles in the parable. I feel the message is something different entirely.
frizzyperm | Student

Ask the Amalakites if Jahweh is just and fair. Oh... hang on, you can't ask them... because Jahweh vengefully slaughtered every last one of them.