You slice the cake and I’ll decide which piece
If you’ve ever blurted the heartfelt statement “that’s unfair!” you’ve likely heard in response “well… life is unfair.” Believers know and agree that the rain falls on everyone. Yet we all long to be – hope to be, and even expect to be, treated with fairness. Even from a distance our heart aches at the sight of unfair behavior. But where does that expectation come from? Before you answer, take note: this subject is an iceberg chocked full of caverns and caveats – something to be carefully explored over time. The story below is a first step.
Loving my neighbor (with Jesus’s bullwhip)
A breathtaking miscalculation by a young neighbor severed the natural gas line beneath our living room. Within minutes our home was so flammable that answering the phone could have killed us. But because of a deadline our gas line was easier to break than my concentration. My wife stopped explaining and pulled me by the shirt sleeve away from my desk and through the front door. Our A/C unit had been wrestled to the ground by a black SUV and hogtied with the other end of that gas line. I dashed back inside to turn off the breaker and open windows but it was too late. My game face – the one that looks like Jesus, was dead on the floor from asphyxiation. Seconds later I was back outside; this time glaring at the wreckage as if it were a prison break with every guard asleep.
If sixteen years in the passenger seat is considered “driver training” then the SUV sitting atop our air unit wasn’t there by accident. Our neighbor’s son (the untrained driver) blew out his 16th candle, garnered a license and nearly blew up our home. His maiden voyage to the soccer field gave way to a circus maneuver that went no further than the side of our house. The fire department arrived in full hazmat regalia, unleashing a parade of arm-chair crisis managers into the street. Neighbors love this sort of thing.
The young man’s father turned to me as I approached and with a humorous expectation crossed his arms and chuckled… “Well neighbor, it’s time to get yourself a new unit.” But humor is an unfamiliar idiot when your house is about to explode (and you’re broke). My wife and I were equally frustrated but she was more overwhelmed by the opportunity to “be Jesus” to our neighbor. I just wanted to stripe the poor fellow with Jesus’s bullwhip, you know, the one from the temple? And I made it quite clear. But throwing stones sent ripples through my own countenance until its face bore the likeness of an unmade bed – scarcely covering my flesh. My wife took aim with insisting eyes, but her warning shots bounced away from that bed and fell (every one) to the ground.
To my neighbor’s defense rushed another neighbor from another street, making her way to my yard in hopes of inspiring the villagers (still other neighbors) to grab their torches and pitchforks – me being the monster. There were loud chants of “oh grow up” and “come on it was just an accident”. But after the kid destroyed our air unit, wiped out the utilities and nearly killed us, ridicule for not laughing it off in the first two minutes was a marked improvement on the hour.
The neighbor’s insurance adjustor was expected the next business day. Seven days and seven estimates later he knocked on our door with camera in hand. While shaking my hand he was shaking his head in disbelief over the condition of our unit. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” Scrolling through the images he continued shaking his head “I can’t wait to show these to the other adjustors.” I humored him hoping the bottom line wouldn’t take as long to reach as his arrival. With a nod of agreement he stopped abruptly and blurted… “You’ll need to call your homeowners insurance”. Our mouths fell open but nothing worth repeating fell out. “Call OUR homeowners insurance?” (If you’re reading between the lines look for a large deductible and a rate increase in that proposition.) “Sorry sir, it’s just our policy.”
My wife, the woman who’d been ready to be Jesus to our neighbor, was now ready to drive out this thief with that bullwhip – the one I’d stolen from Jesus. I think he escaped unharmed, but with an eight thousand dollar replacement cost, we had no choice but to agree to the hefty deductible and to live with higher rates. By this time our sense of fair expectation was road kill (left for dead) on the pity highway – a highway with toll booths on every exit – the further you travel the more expensive it gets. Stay with me…
Our adjustor arrived three days later with an expert, a partnering A/C company to help validate the process. We already had seven experts assess the damage and agree on the solution but certainly didn’t mind one more. By now we knew that federal law prohibited partially updating an obsolete system. Our safety and legal compliance required a full replacement. Hearing that for the eighth time made little difference to us – we thought.
To our surprise this final expert hinted that all seven of our estimates were fraudulent, suggesting that rebuilding was actually a better option because it would reduce the claim cost by half. And even though our system was ten years obsolete, matching parts could be located in junkyards. Wow! This is where unfair begins to feel downright criminal and we both break out the bullwhips. By the way, not one of the seven companies we contacted would touch the liability of trying to rebuild an obsolete system.
Now with a deep breath… (let’s recap)
My wife and children are in homeschool and I’m working in my office. Our neighbor who’s not quite ready to drive demolishes our gas line and A/C units. We narrowly escape our gas filled house without blowing it up. A few people are condemning me for lacking a sense of humor. The damages amount to eight thousand dollars. We have no A/C, heat or hot water for weeks. The neighbor’s insurance refuses to pay for it. Our own homeowners insurance has a one thousand dollar deductible. Our monthly rates increase by fifteen percent. Our Insurance preemptively offers enough to rebuild it with junkyard parts. And the kid next door who injured only his pride was now zipping past the mess he created with more confidence, in his new car!
Okay life is unfair… So where do we go from here?
There are generally two directions we can take: Attempt to “make -fair” the unfair circumstance or Leave it as-is and try to draw meaning from it. Either way, the origin is the same dark and hollow place. Until we move in one direction or the other, we’ll neither ease the pain nor gain understanding – so we have to move. But it’s how we make that decision that is most critical. In order to shed some light, we have to start by asking the right questions from the right perspective (as vineyard workers not holocaust victims) and applying brutal honesty to the answers. To that end, we must sincerely ask where the idea of fairness comes from. And only absolute honesty will provide enough clarity in that tunnel to distinguish between daylight and a speeding train. So, here it is… the truth: Jesus never taught us to be fair, or to expect it. That said, we can agree, disagree or simply say “I already knew that”. But before we can discuss it frankly, we have to take a look at our behavior. Behavior reflects what we truly believe more accurately than our words – even in trivial things.
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matt 7:12 NASB.
Jesus clearly delivers to us His standard for loving others. I’m not suggesting that we’ve misunderstood that. I am suggesting that if we’re not careful, our flesh will gravitate subconsciously toward the best “me” outcome – viewing everything through a set of “how it affects me” lenses. Speaking for myself, when I read this passage I too know exactly what Jesus is saying. But without careful meditation, what my flesh latches onto is something slightly different – twisting the emphasis so that later, under pressure, I’m relying on a false expectation: “People will also treat me the way they would like to be treated.” And if I’m not careful, I’ll behave according to something slightly off parallel, that eventually shuttles my thinking in the opposite direction – possibly toward an oncoming train.
Here’s a quick allegory, using physical maturity, to illustrate the difference in how we reconcile what we say, with what we truly believe (spiritual maturity). Suppose you’re running at top speed and suddenly shoved to the ground, how do you react? If you are five you cry, if you are fifteen you seek revenge, if you are twenty five you seek answers, and if you are forty you see that God kept you from being run over by a city bus. Based on my initial behavior with my neighbor (with no time to apply my game face) my spiritual maturity was like that of the fifteen year old, while my wife’s behavior was like that of the forty year old. When my neighbor didn’t immediately meet my expectation, I reacted on what I really believe – no matter how many times I’ve agreed that life is not fair.
In that respect, how did you feel when you read what happened to us? What was your initial response? Without fail every person we’ve shared this story with has some version of the same response and remedy: “The neighbor should pay or help pay our deductible.” I certainly agree that it’s the only right and fair thing to do. But if I ask myself why, every honest answer leads me to the same perplexing place – and it’s not Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t teach us to be fair, He teaches us to love even our enemy – to be more than fair to everyone, expecting nothing from men in return. And to be clear… fairness is not inconsistent with scripture, but holding it as a preeminent inalienable right, is. Perhaps our neighbor should pay or at least help with the deductible. Or perhaps he should say “well, you’re getting a new system for a thousand bucks, I did you a favor.” And I could see his point if he said that. But why does it matter who pays if I trust God completely? Think about this… If I believe the words of Matthew 6:33, why should I struggle or strive over the injustice or lack of fairness in our situation? I’m convinced that the longing we feel to be treated fairly is actually a longing for God’s love but until we know His love, we search for anything that will satisfy it quickly, including adding a twist on the scriptures.
We prayed and God clearly gave us instructions – instructions that included nothing about compensation. In following His lead we sat down with the young man and his parents and told him it was okay – that we’d both made much worse mistakes as teens – all was forgiven. And I asked His parents to forgive me for my anger. We left without saying a word about compensation but trusting God to be our provider in yet another impossible situation. One week later the neighbor brought us a check that covered our deductible. The rest is HIS-story.