Religion

Faith Matters: Do we only want what is fair in life? Or do we want something more?

After suffering (first-world style, of course) through some terrible college football bowl games, I was ready for some good football. And while the NFL’s wild-card and divisional-round playoff games mostly followed the same script, the conference championships games finally delivered.

In fact, one may remember the hard-fought, back-and-forth games featuring 40-year-old quarterbacks at the zenith of their careers fending of the young guns desperate to dethrone them.

One ageless wonder drove his team down the field to taste the ultimate buffet of QB glory, while the other threw his last pass of the season to the wrong team. Now he can throw back a beer, though more likely a vegan smoothie with extra kale and carrots, while the other throws a football on football’s ultimate stage.

Then again, many likely will remember not a ball thrown, but a flag that never left the hand of an official during the NFC Championship Game. He, along with the rest of America, watched a receiver get lambasted before the ball arrived. He, unlike the rest of America, did nothing. No flag. Soon, no Super Bowl.

What could have been? Or rather, what should have been?

In a report on NFL.com, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton claimed, “It happened though, so we can’t dwell on it. We’ll probably never get over it.”

Ouch.

The fans may not either.

Despite a prominent Louisiana lawyer recently filing a suit, getting a do-over through a loophole and a commissioner pardon was as likely as them replaying the game in my backyard.

So, what is the most fair thing to do for the Saints and the Los Angeles Rams?

Even more so, forget about football, if you can. I know, I know, it’s hard for me, too. Do we all want to live in a world that only operates according to a strict definition of fairness? In other words, do we simply want to receive only that which we deserve?

For Cyntoia Brown, this philosophical question has taken a turn from the hypothetical to the real. Having already served 15 years for a murder committed when only 16, her only hope lay in an appeal for clemency to the governor of Tennessee.

When he pardoned her sentence, she revealed a deep awareness of this complex fairness conundrum. While many claimed this pardon as a victory for justice, Brown instead hailed grace as the victor in this “an act of mercy.”

I don’t know how she framed her appeal in the beginning, leaving it in the hands of fairness (what she deserved), or laying it all down at the feet of mercy. However, in the end, she claimed she received not that which she deserved, but what which she did not.

Fairness didn’t have the final say. Fortunately for her, mercy did.

Like the New Orleans lawyer appealing for justice, don’t we assume that fairness is all that we need? If God and others could only see what we see, and if both parties simply treated me the way I deserved, I would have no gripes in life.

Yet both scripture and Cyntoia Brown remind us not to go down that dangerous but irresistible path.

The message of the gospel goes even further in addressing this question by operating according to fairness and mercy. In Romans 6:23, we see that “the wages of sin is death.” And I do sin a lot, in thought, word and deed. So that’s bad news if I just want fairness in life.

But here comes the good news: Jesus, who had no sin of his own, paid my wages for me. Instead of simply letting the guilty party walk — as we see in the gubernatorial pardon — and showing mercy but overlooking justice (for the victims family), Jesus, the innocent, decided to serve my sentence Himself.

He took justice for Himself via death on the cross, so I could get mercy: the gift of life eternal which starts now. Fairness and mercy.

So when a Christian begins to think only in terms of fairness (what is my obligation based upon how he/she has treated me), he or she is clearly forgetting his/her own merciful pardon. God doesn’t relate to us any longer in such a way, and now we have both the freedom and motivation to show mercy instead of giving people back what they may deserve.

Grace really is a game changer. It can’t change the outcome of a Saints game, but it does change the way the “saints” (those who have been pardoned by Christ) play the game.

And it makes the game of life far more enjoyable for everyone in the world.

Contact Pastor Geoff Henderson at geoff@harborcommunitychurch.org or follow him on Twitter @theapostleGH. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday’s Bradenton Herald written by local clergy members.

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