In 1993, the Irish band The Cranberries came out with their globally successful debut album, “Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We,” which contained the lush and beautiful hit singles “Linger” and “Dreams.” Although it is not particularly clear what the title is referring to about what the Cranberries had trouble doing that everyone else was doing, the sentiment itself is easy enough to understand. Children of all ages tend to react particularly harshly to what they view as unfair treatment, wondering why they cannot do what everyone else is able to do, seemingly with impunity. This is such a massive problem that it receives one of the longest psalms (Asaph’s moving Psalm 73) which contains a godly man wrestling with that sentiment. There are times in life, too many, where there appear to be double standards and inconsistencies with how standards are applied, and while this is too massive a subject to fully tackle, it is worthy to at least look at it briefly.
We could all share stories in our lives about how we have been subject to what we see as double standards, why it is wrong for us to do in our situation what others do in theirs without seeming to suffer any sort of consequences for it. I know I can think of many such examples myself, many of them too personal to share (not only for myself, but for others). Before we curse the hypocrisy of others, though, it is worthwhile to point out that what appear to us to be examples of double standards of a particularly galling and unacceptable variety do in fact spring from meaningful distinctions, even if those distinctions are not particularly helpful to us. Whether we are put in the position of listening to well-meaning advice that strikes us as particularly problematic, or whether we chafe under burdensome restrictions on our conduct that we do not see being placed on others.
At times adopting a broader perspective allows us to better understand what is going on. It also allows us to feel less resentful and bitter about what we have to endure, the innumerable injustices of life, when we realize the larger context. At times the standards we are under, which may be harsher than the standards that other people undergo, are a result of our status (or the status of other people we are dealing with), and we cannot share the same freedom of action that others have without sharing that same status that tends to make interactions a lot more safe. At other times the standards of action that we are under are the result of either our own prior history (and the resulting loss of trust) or the legitimate fears and concerns others have about our conduct. An example of this, for example, is the sort of restrictions that come on the conduct of people who are being released from prison–while such people ought to be given the chance to start a new life and overcome their past, chances that are too often denied, at the same time the reasons for these restrictions is obvious in that people hold our past against us and will continue to do so until they see us as different, which is in their hands and not in ours.
At other times the different standards we are under are a result of different commitments we have made. Those who have made a commitment to follow God in all their ways (a serious and immensely difficult commitment) live under different rules than do others. This is entirely appropriate, as God makes promises to such people, including the promises of eternal life and places of honor within His Kingdom, that He does not make to general humanity. Those who enter into a covenant with God, however, have certain responsibilities, including (but not limited) to model obedience to the ways of God before people to set a good example of what God’s ways are like, and to show the same sort of gracious and tender love for us that we are shown by God our Father and Jesus Christ. We are to be living examples of citizens of the Kingdom of God living among the corrupt and broken societies of our fallen earth. Having a different citizenship and better promises than that given to others gives us by necessity different standards to live under, that the difference would be an obvious call to repentance for a planet scarred and wounded by thousands of years of sin and folly, of rebellion and defiance. The same is true when it comes from nation to nation and even family to family–those who have the authority to set rules for those areas that are under their jurisdiction can and will set rules based on their own circumstances and there will be a different standard, with different concerns and goals, than those elsewhere. Often what appear like burdensome restrictions are meant for our own safety and protection and benefit, even if they do not tend to seem so at the time.
Ultimately, when we look at the lives we live and the standards that we live under, we must remember that we are not living for ourselves alone. We are living, first and foremost, to glorify God in our conduct and behavior. That is a difficult enough task that it ought to take up a great deal of our time and attention. Aside from that, we live in such a way that we may serve others and show them the love for them that God has, manifested in practical and tangible ways, so that people may draw spiritual conclusions from the way that we live our lives. None of this is easy to do, and at times it may be very painful that we may have to suffer because of our service of others. Let us remember, though, that we have been called to follow the example of Jesus Christ, who emptied himself of his dignity in heaven so that he might walk on earth as a human being, who suffered the abuses and indignities of a life touched by the appearance of scandal, and who was ultimately scourged and mocked and beaten and crucified through no fault of his own to pay the price for our sins so that we might be set free from the death that we all so richly owe as a result of our deeds. We therefore ought to expect, at least at times, that showing love for others and serving the bests of others and not only ourselves should at times confront us with the necessity of enduring injustice and difficulty for the well-being and benefit of our present and future brothers and sisters in Christ. That is simply an aspect of the life that we have been called to live.