The Princess Bride and the Mercy of God – fairness is overrated

[From the archives.]


I love William Goldman’s The Princess Bride.* Most people who know the story know it from the movie. And many of them can toss off lines from it at the drop of a hat:

“As you wish … .”

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

“Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line!”

“Sonny, true love is the greatest thing, in the world, except for a nice MLT – mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe.”

And everyone’s favorite:

“Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangement, that dweam wifin a dweam… And wuv, twue wuv, will fowow you fowevah …”

Life’s not Fair

The point of the movie is pretty clear: true love wins as Wesley rescues Buttercup from the evil prince. But the book has a different point entirely. Goldman doesn’t sugar-coat it and he doesn’t try to hide it behind sappy sentimentality:

“This book says ‘life isn’t fair’ and I’m telling you, one and all, you better believe it.”

“I’m not trying to make this a downer, understand. I mean, I really do think that love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops. But I also have to say, for the umpty-umpth time, that life isn’t fair.”

Goldman makes sure that by the time you’re done with the book, you’ll be clear on the concept. It’s still funny and witty and adventurous and full of true love and in fact I like the book much better than the movie – which is hard to imagine, since I think the movie is genius – but Goldman drives the point home: life’s not fair.

I’ve come to learn that’s a good thing.

Fairness is Overrated

“The beauty of grace is that it makes life unfair.”

(Relient K, Be My Escape)

Anyone with half a lick of self-awareness knows they’re not perfect. It’s a fact known around the world: we all make mistakes. The Bible says as much too.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23.)

“Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you.” (Psalm 143:2.)

“All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:3.)

What is there to cheer about? If life is fair, we are all going to have to answer for our sins. Here, then, is the good part – the Bible doesn’t say as much. Instead, it says things like:

“He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:10.)

“All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24.)

“We were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:3-5.)

God’s grace makes life unfair; it also makes it better.

That’s not fair! Yay!

Most of us have a healthy sense of justice. At least I know I do, especially when I am the one being wronged. It might be something relatively minor like a friend inadvertently standing me up for a lunch date (it’s happened occasionally), or something more significant like someone trying to take my job away from me and get it for himself (that one happened too, a few years back). Some people also get conscience-stricken when they realize they’ve been the one meting out the injustice; I know I am to blame for many injustices to people in my life, and rightly deserve punishment for it.

But when it comes to our eternal state, whether it will be one where God serves out justice and punishment as deserved or not, here’s a conversation I can imagine happening:

“You’re not being fair!”

 “You’re right, I’m not.”

 “In fact, you’re being unfair!”

 “You’re right, I am.”

 “How can I thank you?!”

How do I know this? Because the Bible is clear and unequivocal when it assures us that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1.) I belong to Christ, and because I do I know that I will not face judgment for my sins. It may not be fair, but I’ll take it.

Fairness is overrated anyway.


*Here’s another post I wrote about The Princess Bride, for fans who can’t get enough.

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13 Responses to The Princess Bride and the Mercy of God – fairness is overrated

  1. It is that unfairness and that love directed purely in one way that ignites the passion for us to come near to the most passionate lover we have even known. A lover that rejoices even over our deformities, for He does not see them as everyone else does and that really is unfair. Because it keeps us from feeling righteous, when we by anyone elses standard have a right to do so. The more we understand these things the less smug we feel when we say “Can you believe they are that irresponsible with grace.” Because we realize we are just as much.

    Thanks Tim great post.

  2. Pastor Bob says:

    “The beauty of grace is that it makes life unfair.”
    Grace, giving someone something that they are not entitled to.

    How true.

  3. Ruth says:

    Grace is as abundant as life is not fair. When quite young, I just knew God loved everyone and forgave everyone, except me. I was the odd one out, full of fear, self disrespect, sadness and misery. I told God off every day I think….I hated Him, He wasn’t fair, He should go away, I didn’t want Him if He didn’t want me, and on and on. ( when, of course I really wanted Him ).
    I prayed, and rejected dozens of times a day, desperate for relief and help.
    Rightly, I should have been rejected an punished, but NO, over the years God has graciously ministered to me and understood my visceral pain during constant physicsl illness and emotional burnout, and given me Himself in ways I am only beginning to understand.
    It is hard to even mention those early times, but I can use this tl help others I know are dealing with this now…I know, oh I know how it feels to be so far away, but not understanding God was there all the time.
    I could write a book about this journey, but I’m so busy living it, wordy blogs are as much as I can manage. Right this minute I am waiting on Him to lead me to a job that I want to avoid, but I know the moment will come when He will put me in gear, and away I will go. Praise Him indeed, and thankyou for this blog, such a place of sense and kindness. 🙂

    • Tim says:

      Thank you, Ruth, for such a wonderful testimony to God’s grace.

      • Ruth says:

        Well, another example of His graciousness.
        Finally got put in gear, made a phone call, and I am certain God provided this government finance rep to help me. Problem viewed sympathetically, I can act on dads behalf, and any negatives are minor!
        So i had to phone conference with dad and rep, even that was smooth, after two hours of checking, chatting, details are ready for declaring.
        I told you about this sometime ago Tim, and although there are several issues left to settle with my brothers help, all is good! Dad can enjoy turning 86 without thinking he could go to gaol or be fined a heap for confusing his information. (poor man, to be afraid that much).
        Thankyou for your encouragement and positive imput, you are a true blessing, and God has certainly been using you to help spread Gods grace! 🙂
        One more story for that book I’ll never write….

        • Tim says:

          That is great news, Ruth. What a blessing to speak to the right person, someone how is kind and able to help as well. I hope your father is comfortable with how things stand now. Thanks for letting me know the latest news.

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    From my Old School D&D days:

    “But That’s Not Fair!” was the universal cry of a Trid player who got caught. (“Trid” is “dirt” spelled backwards, local word for what’s now called Munchkin Power Gamer and/or cheater). Apparently to a Trid, “fair” means “I. WIN. ALWAYS.” You don’t turn your back on a Trid gamer.

  5. No so sure about that. While God forgives our unfairness, fair is still very important to God. Maybe the problem goes back to Calvin being a lawyer, though the medieval church had the same issue: seeing Christ as a judge in a criminal trial condemning those who broke his laws.
    But if you read the OT prophets, they looked for the coming Messiah as a judge alright, but a civil judge righting injustices. Of course, we have all behaved cruelly and unjustly to others, (even if it is just standing Tim Fall up for lunch). We all need God’s mercy and find it in Christ. But when we are in Christ we are part of a kingdom that stands for justice and fairness, that defends the poor and marginalised, like the radical Christians in previous generations fighting and overturning unjust laws like the ones allowing one man to own another or say that only the rich can vote but not the poor, or only men and not women.

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