“But it’s not fair!” You could hear the pain and anger in her voice. You could see her face was contorted and shaped in a way that communicated just how upset she was. Hey, get used to this if you have children! My daughter was indignant that her sister got to do something she wasn’t able to do as well. And her insistence that “it’s not fair” was somehow to insist the situation must be changed. It wasn’t.
It is a particular characteristic of immaturity to insist on the illusion of “fairness.” Frankly, I find this idolatry to be the most stubborn of all human tendencies. We measure ourselves against this or that person. We measure or compare our situations, our circumstances, our lives by others and consistently this comparison “reveals” some inequity at work that keeps me from being happy, successful, or content. If the enemy of our souls was to ever design the perfect weapon to keep us discontent it has to be the illusion of “fairness.”
Look at our lesson today in Genesis 4:8-15:
Cain said to Abel his brother, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me.” Then the LORD said to him, “Not so! If any one slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him.
Cain kills his brother after being confronted with a weakness in his own heart. He kills his brother because he was gripped with the notion that “it’s not fair” that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and he was not. This spiritual poverty was the precursor to the first murder. But then Cain compounds his spiritual illness when confronted with his sin. Notice God doesn’t accuse Cain. He invites Cain to confess. Accusing is the evil one’s job.
But notice the depth of Cain’s illness. When told what the consequences are of his fratricide, he again appeals to “fairness.” “It’s too much” Cain complains. “It isn’t fair, because now everyone who sees me will want to kill me!”
At the heart of Cain’s illness is self-centeredness. At the heart of my sin is self-centeredness. This focused blindness reduces the whole world and all in it to my comparison between me and my circumstances and everyone else. I spend my days looking for those who have it better than me and, in my heart, I cry out “It’s not fair.” But the Faith invites me to a different path. This path is one where I focus only on my own sins and refrain from judging my brother. I am set free by the Faith from the never-ending slavery of constantly comparing my situation to someone else’s. I am called to compare myself only to Christ, and to labor all my life to submitting myself to His grace to make me like Him. To all others, I assume all men are better than me. I am the chiefest of sinners. Now, of course, our modern insanity will scream “That’s not fair!” They will insist I attend an “empowering workshop” for those with “low self-esteem.” They will rage against any notion that radical egalitarianism is “Only fair” and they would be radically wrong. Because, at the heart of this insanity is the sin of Cain, the seed of murder. My Orthodox path takes me away from this insanity toward a life of comparing myself only to Christ and Him alone.
Today, do you find it easy to compare your life, what you have or don’t have, to others? Do you find that a peace-creating activity or does it cause you pain, anger, and envy? The Orthodox Christian life has a remedy for this poverty of soul and the ultimate destruction of the false idol of “fairness.” But it is a path that will be called foolish in a world where “fairness” is god. Do you want to be free from this poverty? Then it’s time to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, as I struggle with the spiritual disciplines of Great Lent, I confess they are uncovering a deep wound in me. I am so very quick to compare my life and my situation with others. And when I do, I so often stumble into comparing myself to them and being upset that they seem to have it better than me. They are happier than I am. They are wealthier than I am. They don’t seem to have a care in the world, and I am working so hard to be good and it doesn’t seem to be paying off for me! Why Lord? Now I see my mistake, Lord Jesus. I need to only compare myself to You, but I forget that too many times. Please help me be what You have called me to be and not judge my brother. Amen.