It’s not fair!

by Guy Brandon

Justice… or mercy?

‘A future fair for all.’ ‘Building a fairer Britain.’ ‘We’re all in this together.’ Since the scale of the economic challenges facing the country became clearer in the run-up to the last election, the question has repeatedly arisen: who will suffer most when times are tough? Each party has worked hard to convince the public that their solution to the crisis is fairer than the others. Everyone must pay their fair share, and everyone must be treated fairly in return. What this means in practice is endlessly debated, but no one argues with Fairness as an idea.

Fairness has become the watchword of politics, and not just in terms of taxes and benefits. The language of justice and fairness permeates every area of policy, and everything is now scrutinised through this lens. Behind almost every criticism lies the accusation: ‘It’s not fair.’ The economy. Provision of education and health services. Pensions, incapacity and unemployment benefits. Discrimination and employment. And, of course, immigration.

If there is one theme that informs our national attitudes and narratives about immigration, it must be justice. Wherever we sit on the spectrum of opinion, justice is the framework through which we understand our personal and political beliefs about the many different aspects of this highly complex topic. Perceived injustice – whether against immigrant or host country – is what motivates people to engage. Whether we are fighting for the rights of asylum seekers, or campaigning for the BNP, our arguments tend to be couched in terms of justice.

The Jubilee Centre’s new immigration project will challenge this assumed framework, arguing that – whilst Justice is important – there are better frameworks for understanding immigration and much else besides. Mercy – ḥeśed in Hebrew – repeatedly occurs as an underlying theme throughout the Bible. This ‘loving kindness’, ‘faithfulness’ or ‘covenant loyalty’ is a key attribute of God’s character and encompasses many of the qualities mentioned elsewhere: grace, compassion, truth, love; as well as embodying or bringing about justice, righteousness and holiness.

In Matthew 23:23, Jesus mentions justice as one of ‘the weightier provisions of the law: justice [krisin] and mercy [eleon, which typically translates ḥeśed in the LXX] and faithfulness [pistin]’ – reflecting OT emphases. However, when Jesus speaks about why he has come in Luke 4, he does not directly mention justice. ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

There is a greater emphasis on grace and mercy, as a reflection of God’s character, than there is on justice. John 3:17 reads, ‘For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn [krinē] the world, but to save the world through him.’ The repeated call by those suffering and in need of healing is, ‘Son of David, have mercy on us!’ – not ‘Give us justice!’

As James 2:13 states, ‘mercy [eleos] triumphs over judgement [krisis]’ – something we have to remember when we are tempted to argue, ‘It’s not fair!’

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Category: Blogs

January, 2013

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