That’s Not Fair!

Social conscience begins with a look in the mirror.


“Did you read that article in Huffington Post about discrimination against minorities? That makes me so mad!”

“Can you believe it?! Mr. Jones refused to give Ashley another chance on her poor test grade! What a chauvinist!”

“I’m not going to buy Nike products anymore; they allow sweat-shops to produce their shoes!”

Teenagers seem to have a heightened sense of hypocrisy. Addressing various social constructs fuels indignation. Rich versus poor. Conservative versus liberal. One ethnicity versus another. Parent versus child. Teacher versus student. Young people are quick to identify perceived wrongs where, from their vantage-point, rights may have been violated or people were possibly marginalized.

“Social conscience”, or the desire to correct evils in the world, is a process for which students are quite adept. But what they don’t realize is that their sense of “fairness” comes because they reflect the character of their Creator. The responsibility of the Christian school is to make sure that a solid theological foundation is established for the correction of societal and personal wrongs.

Do We Expect Too Much of God?

“Why doesn’t God do something?”

“Why did He allow this to happen?”

“Maybe my atheist friends are right: if there is a good God and He allows bad things to happen, why should I believe in Him?”

Questions like these resound through high school classrooms. Human expectations of The Almighty are often improper. Teaching students to start with a biblical view of God begins the process of understanding social consciousness. The doctrines of God that follow give us guidance in establishing principles for practicing earthly justice.

1. Transcendence and Immanence Holiness is based on transcendence: God is set apart, different from His creation (Job 36:22-26). God sets the standards. Ethical codes are based upon Heaven’s Word. God never lowers His standard, but He does lower Himself. God’s immanence, care for His creatures, is demonstrated through The Written Word (Scripture) and The Living Word (Jesus), lived out through His covenant people (Philippians 2:1-11). Social consciousness begins with a Transcendent standard. Reaching out to others mirrors God’s personal custody of His world.

2. Justice and Righteousness Civil rights banners will often carry the former without the latter. Yet, there is no justice without righteousness (Deuteronomy 32:4). The words are often paired in the Old Testament (e.g. Psalm 119:121). And there can be no righteousness without the personification of The Just Judge (Psalm 11:7). The cry of “That’s not fair!” is premised upon and answered only in the person of God Himself.

3. Mercy and Truth A teacher is often a target of “grace expectations”. People like pardon. Once received, however, mercy is anticipated. Any absolute truth is forgotten. Standards are brushed aside. But the very need for mercy is built upon the result of law breaking. God declares truth and mercy is offered to humans (Romans 2:1-11). Concern for societal ills must acknowledge both.

4. Infallibility and Incomprehensibility Instead of asking “How could this happen?” students must be prompted to query “How should I respond now that this has happened?” God never fails. Human understanding of God, however, may fail (Job 33:12-30). God is infinite and humans are finite. People, therefore, do not always understand God (Job 11:7, 8) much less God’s actions in earthly affairs (Job 37:5; Isaiah 40:13-14). Social injustices result from The Fall (Romans 8:18-22). How The Creator uses human rebellion to His own ends is not something people can even grasp (note Habakkuk’s consternation when God judges Judah with the unrighteous Babylonians).

5. Temporal and Eternal Wrongs not addressed in this life will be in the next. God’s people have counted on His vengeance throughout history (Deuteronomy 32:34-43; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10). Humans have a tendency to be shortsighted. God takes the long view. While teenagers seethe with rage over some real or perceived inequity, God records it all and nothing escapes His sight. Hoping the “bad guys get it” may not happen on earth. But the basis for ethical living is premised upon the fact that God is eternal, as is His judgment (Psalm 73).

People may expect too much of God because they don’t understand Him. High school students must be taught not to limit God but base their thinking about social consciousness upon proper theology. But the problem of perception is a double-edged sword.

Do We Expect Too Little from Ourselves?

On the one hand, people want to blame God for injustice. On the other hand, people excuse their own behavior. “That’s not my problem!” “Why are you so up tight? Everybody does it!” “So, I blew it. I’m only human!” Indeed. Humanness is a problem.

What we know about the correct treatment of humans begins with knowing God. What we know of injustice, we bring upon ourselves. High school students know this full well. Being left out or put down for various teenage reasons produces its own discrimination. Wary of our inconsistency and preparing for opportunity helps us set guidelines for students.

1. Ourselves We all have blind spots. The awful actions of others are seen more closely by stepping in front of a mirror. Prejudice, bias, and presumption are human fallibilities. The truth of Romans 2:1-11 is all too real. The old maxim “if you point a finger at others, you have a few pointing back at yourself” is correct. While we fight for the dignity of others, we face our own depravity. The command of God to treat others based on the treatment we desire for ourselves is the linchpin of social consciousness (Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:28-31).

2. Others Why do we care for others? Again, our interest is a reflection of God’s initial investment. The Christian worldview is based on a Just Judge who expects His people to act as His vice-regents on earth (Isaiah 58, 59). The response to social injustice must be paid in personal capital. While students learn about truth, they must also live truth (Romans 12:9-21).

3. Opposition While our sensibilities of justice are heightened by the nightly news, we must train students to ask, “Am I hearing both sides?” “Is there a slant in the coverage?” “Is there other information that I need to know?” Journalists and media outlets may not give us “all the news fit to print”. Every side of an issue should be fairly represented (Deuteronomy 19:15-18; Proverbs 18:17). While we rightly decry disenfranchisement of any minority we must ask, for instance, why we don’t hear about the persecution of Christians on the front pages of America’s newspapers.

4. Opportunities Involvement through editorial page, local soup kitchens, service projects, and church outreaches are imperative for Christian high school students to practice what they preach. Response to social problems must always be personal, specific, and measurable. Teachers should employ methods that help students interact with real life issues. Case studies, research, discussion, forums, and debates would help to process different perspectives while ferreting out true Truth. Looking for ways to instruct students “in the way they should go” must encourage biblical thinking that acknowledges fact, changes attitudes, and stresses participation leading to transformation (e.g., 2 Kings 23:25).

Social consciousness must be lived out. As believers in Jesus as Lord, our responsibility as “ambassadors of reconciliation” is demonstrated on the streets and in the classroom. Who God is and His influence on believers are the basis for true social change. Ministries to the poor, defenseless, homeless, prisoners, and hungry are begun by people with a mind for Jesus and a hand toward humanity (Matthew 25:34-40).

Mark taught high school students for 17 years and has taught them for 13 years more as they enter college.  So many of the students Dr. Eckel has taught have taught him more about social conscience because of their good works.  May their tribe increase. This article was first published in Christian Education Journal, Winter, 2002.


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