Fairness Is the Line

Fairness is metallic. It is joyless. It is good only by default — only because it is not evil. It is the line that delineates what is good to do and what is not, but it is just the line — not the path. It says, "Beyond this point are higher things, better things. Beyond this point is love." Fairness is the line — the closest thing to doing evil we can still call "doing good."

Fairness is the line between to opposite horizons: darkness and light. It is the twilight that is itself not yet darkness, but that cannot quite be called very light, except by comparison to heavy darkness. It is the point one foot past which, in one direction, a traveler can be confidently declared to be in the light, and in the other direction, just as equally in the darkness. It is the first point that really seems light to a man who stands deep in the darkness. But many things stand in the darkness, in evil, with toes hung over the line, seeming good to themselves merely by proximity to the line. Indeed, they can make out vague shapes in the darkness, and they are quite proud. But the further you walk away from the line, up the path of love, toward the gilded, broadening light, the dimmer the line appears to you when you turn around to give it a look, the drearier its surrounding environment, and the closer the line looks to the dark horizon on the other side — because the farther you are from a place, the closer it looks to everything else in that direction you are far from until the whole collection of distant things in the same direction becomes a single thing you can point at and call "over there." Fairness is a great distance from the horizon on love's side — like the trickling light of the very early dawn is very far from the white-hot passion of the high noon sun.

Fairness is a good thing to begin upon, if you must, because it is, after all, not itself darkness; it even seems to have been created for this reason: if one cannot love, one can at least be fair. But it is not — oh, do not be tempted to think — even bright enough in that spot to tell where a stone landed if you tossed one casually from you. It isn't that bright. But you will make out your hand, so that you may see what it does. And that is a start.

But how is Good satisfied in that? Fairness demands its own rights; it is not selfless. It allows; it does not give. It begrudges; it does not delight. It is exacting; it is not generous. It is harsh; it is not merciful. It is mechanical; not gracious. It is mathematical; not beautiful. It is just; it is not love. Fairness measures all things in equal proportion; love gives all things without reserve.

Fairness cannot even be a virtue! The thing that calls you to meet the minimum requirements of the law, or of the ethics of personal relationships, is not a virtue. The thing that calls you to exceed the requirements of the law, or the demands of civil relation, is a virtue. The Decalogue, all morality, most personal grievances, and many of the world's commonest pet-peeves call for the fair, the right, the just from people. And that is good. Let it be.

But if all God wanted was for everything to be just just, then biological robots would have been the sure-bet inhabits of this Earth. Something is given, something of exact value is paid back; a deed done for another, and a deed precisely it's twin in return; an action, and a directly proportional reaction — these are the ways of gears and levers and physics, dull grays and metallic clanks, not lovers.

Above all things, be a lover. Give freely. Be unscrupulously merciful. Allow the beauty of people loving each other without claiming rights, without holding expectations, without demands, agendas, and manipulations — loving and moving and giving and deferring — remind you of dance. Let it remind you of art and other things robots cannot do. Let it remind you that there are greater things than to be merely lawful, to have merely your rights, to pursue merely wages.

If you see even the Bible tell you "Do what is right," remember that it goes on to say, "Above all, love." John said, "This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Those who do not do what is right are not God’s children; nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters." Yes, do what is right, but do not stop there. God's children are found doing right, certainly. But they are found doing much more than that! Love always does what is better than merely right. It is at least right. If love is "not against the Law," and it "fulfills the Law," and it is "the greatest," then there can never be a time in which it is a wrong decision to do what is loving and gracious over what is fair and just.

But remember, when you are trying to love, to expect to find yourself attempting to make an alloy of love and fairness. It's easy to reason yourself into loving only those who love you in return. But that's a tepid, weak love, not in the pattern of God's unconditional love, which is a wild, fiery, potent thing. So Jesus said, "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them."

But then, there are also times so momentous that to choose to do what is fair, rather than to do what is love, is to keep your friend, or enemy, or husband, or daughter, back on the line in the twilight beside yourself — a critical opportunity missed to pierce through the haze with the light and step forward with them into a new day. You think your nagging someone to do what is right — to do what is their just portion — or your demands for fair treatment and equal work will accomplish your goals? You are sadly mistaken. Fairness may be moral, but it doesn't inspire anyone to do anything. Oh, maybe on this occasion or that, something may get done out of resentment, guilt, or shame...

But is that what you want? Just what is fair and no more? Love fulfills the Law. The Law can't even do that. When voices shouting for fairness, justice, and rights only get enough to fill shallow pockets, love produces what is better than fair, better than just, and better than right! Tell me which is the "more excellent way"!

In order to fulfill the commonest law... we must rise into a loftier region altogether, a region that is above law, because it is spirit and life and makes the law.... The law comes to make us long for the needful grace — that is, for the divine condition, in which love is all, for God is Love.
George MacDonald
There is no fair in love.

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  1. Bones Fri May 08, 07:51:00 AM EDT

    Good food for thought, Dave! Thanks for sharing this!