What is Fair, Beautiful, and True

Beauty has to do with order.  The structure, the way it works together, is what brings awe to the admiring eyes.  But this also is true in justice.  It’s appropriate that the word fair describes both justice as well as how something looks or feels.  In both cases, it describes beauty.  Justice done well is fair.  It is beautiful.  Jesus is fairer than the sons of men.  His majesty shines with brighter splendor.  And this is especially true in his goodness and justice, as he came to bear witness to the truth.  The crucifix is beautiful, not merely as a piece of art well crafted, but as a confession of the truth to which he bore witness, as a declaration of justice served in mercy.

God isn’t fair because he makes unilateral rules.  He is impartial, showing no favoritism to this or that person.  All have sinned and fall short of his glory.  Growing up in a good home won’t exempt you from God’s judgment.  But to say that God is impartial and not a respecter of persons does not mean that he cares nothing of what specific people need at specific times.  His impartiality is grounded in his love, not in some principle that if he gives X to this guy then he is going to need to give it to everyone else in the same way.  Such a mentality is bred out of laziness not wanting to serve the neighbor.  Instead, as much as he is impartial in his judgment and forgiveness toward sinners (Rom 3:22-23), God is diverse in his generosity, and his judgments are wise and fair, because they are grounded in love.  His justice isn’t some mere general policy of justice, as if he doesn’t know his children.  It is a caring, intimate, loving justice, just as he knew our every sin and temptation in the person of his Son.  He gave Ephraim and Manasseh more territory than Benjamin, because he knew them, he knew they had more people, and he knew what each one needed.  He ordered that those who could not afford a lamb for an offering to use a pigeon, because he took notice of the poor (Lev 5).  In the Passover, he took into consideration smaller households sharing the lamb with their neighbors (Exod 12:4).  The specific rules were made with love and care for the brother, reflecting God’s purpose for showing mercy.  Be merciful, Jesus says, as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:36).  Pursue love (1 Cor 14:1a).

So the point is that justice and fairness aren’t about making sure that everyone has the same amount, or that everyone must follow the exact same rules to the letter.  When Hedley Lamarr kills a bandit for not having enough gum to go around, this reveals an irony that even pagan comedians understand.  Worldly understandings of fairness amount to be no better than hoodlums trying to pillage a quiet town.  Instead, God’s fairness comes from one who knows and loves those whom he has created and redeemed to be his own children, so much that he is generous even to those who hate him (Matt 5:45).

God’s justice and fairness are summed up in his love.  By such love, he takes into consideration each one’s need, not showing partiality, but applying God’s Word with sincerity and truth.  This requires attention to detail, patience, kindness, and all godly attributes, which can all be summed up as love.  God desires right judgment and righteousness much more than well-crafted rules meant only to stronghold the stubborn.  Yes, the law must be used to coerce those who are unjust.  But it is not laid down for the just (1 Tim 1:9).  From the beginning to the end, love must reign among those who know the love of Christ.  Otherwise we treat one another as slaves and not as free sons.  “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Tim 1:5)”  Love of God, his Word, and those whom he has given us to love, is the bond.

The law doesn’t fulfill love.  Love fulfills the law (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14).  If the law fulfills love, then this is fundamentally works-righteousness.  We will inevitably create love in our own image, both strong-handing one another legalistically as well as cutting corners like antinomians.  The law will become something else as it increases the sin (Rom 5:20a), not because the law is evil or deceitful, but the sin, which increases, deceives us (Rom 7:8).  This continues until what first was revealed as the law is not even recognizable as the law anymore.  The reason why so many “laws” are against the law of God is because the law was treated with Dame Reason’s mighty power to manipulate for her own interests. The law is meant to lead to repentance, leading us to the gospel (Gal 3:24).  And so Isaiah describes exactly how this happened with the children of Israel (Is 28:9-13):

“Whom will he teach knowledge?
And whom will he make to understand the message?
Those just weaned from milk?
Those just drawn from the breasts?
For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept,
Line upon line, line upon line,
Here a little, there a little.”

For with stammering lips and another tongue
He will speak to this people,
To whom He said, “This is the rest with which
You may cause the weary to rest,”
And, “This is the refreshing”;
Yet they would not hear.
But the word of the Lord was to them,
“Precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
Line upon line, line upon line,
Here a little, there a little,”
That they might go and fall backward, and be broken
And snared and caught.

God wanted to give them life by his Word, but they turned it into self-serving, self-interested rules by which they can justify themselves precisely by putting their own interests before their neighbors whom they are to love.  But later on in that same chapter, Isaiah explains what God desires for him who hears his Word. “For He instructs him in right judgment, his God teaches him. (Is 28:26)”  The Hebrew for “right judgment” is Mishpat.  These Mishpatim require a sound mind of faith in God’s Word, working itself out in love.  The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether (Ps 19:9).  “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. (Ps 19:10)”  He guides the humble in right judgment (Ps 25:9).  “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies. (Ps 25:10)”

So here is the difference between Dame Reason’s sense of what is fair and the fairness of God.  Dame Reason is interested in getting something out of it.  She treats no one as an understanding brother who can be persuaded by wise judgments.  Instead, it operates, even as it treats others, like an ox or mule with no understanding that must be curbed with bit and bridle (Ps 32:9).  But God has loved from eternity.  The Father, begetting the Son from eternity, has always considered the Son, and the Son has always considered the Father.  This life of God has always been a self-giving life, love, and righteousness.  God so loved the world that he gave this very love, not that we loved him, but that he loved us, giving his Son as the propitiation for our sins.  It is not a mechanical love, but a beautiful love of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.  The following is a poem describing this difference between Dame Reason’s view of justice and God’s justice:

Dame reason asks itself what’s fair
In beauty, goods, and labor.
It calculates with ev’ry hair
How each receives its favor.
But she is never run by love,
Which gives itself from God above.
Her hands are tied to make decrees
With what her carnal vision sees.
But if she lacks the charity,
Which takes a brother’s load to bear,
We must admit that frugally
The world at least can see what’s fair.

So marvel now at Reason’s math.
She follows with precision
Procedure, rules, and ev’ry path
To make a fair decision.
The letter of the law alone
Is what the flesh would like to own,
So man can use his might with right,
While he is just in carnal sight.
But mint and cumin don’t avail
Before the faithful, righteous Lord.
The body pierced by spear and nail
For us His justice did afford.

Thus fairer is the Son of God,
More lovely than the flowers.
While Reason binds to law and rod
The love within her powers,
The God of beauty binds the law
To love by which He made and saw
That what He’s done is good and true.
He gives Himself with heav’nly dew.
Our God in justice has no lack.
His fairness bound to freedom’s blood,
Which flowed from Jesus’ side and back,
Meets each man’s need by mercy’s flood.

The beauty of our God is this:
He knows what we are needing.
The legalistic, cold dismiss,
Which scorns a brother’s pleading
Is far from God’s pure love and aim.
The ones who trust in Jesus’ name
Will see their Lord, not bureaucrats.
He knows us more than worldly stats.
Though some get more and some get less,
Such gifts are good, and fair, and just.
So seek ye first His righteousness.
The other gifts will turn to dust.

To each He gives his daily bread,
According to His pleasure.
He knows the hairs on ev’ry head,
Providing grace in measure.
Though not as great as Joseph’s son
He portioned land to Benjamin.
Such fairness known to God alone
Compelled His gifts to tribe and throne.
His will is that His sons believe
And love each other all the way
While holding fast in ev’ry need
To Him whose mercies never stray.

About Pastor Andrew Preus

Pastor Andrew Preus is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran/St. Paul Lutheran, Guttenberg/McGregor, IA. He is the eighth of eleven sons, with one sister. He received his seminary training at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, ON (MDiv) from 2009 to 2013, and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN (STM) from 2013 to 2014. His main theological interests include Justification and Church and Ministry. He is married to Leah Preus (nee Fehr), and they have five children: Jacob, Solveig, Kristiana, Robert, and Marian.

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