As a father of three young children, I am very familiar with the phrase "Daddy, that's not fair!" Appeals to justice ring out frequently in my home and I am often cited as the offending party. "You gave her more ice cream than me!" "You let her play the game longer than I did!" "I shouldn't have to go to bed so early!" From my kids' perspective, I could use a great deal of moral education and development.
In some instances, of course, they are right. I am far from perfect and sometimes their consciences correctly catch me treating them unfairly. However, most of the time they are wrong; there is no injustice taking place. There seems to me at least two common reasons for their mistakes.
First, they often don't have enough (or correct) information about the situation. They are ignorant or misinformed or both. For example, the girls may wrongly believe that they received different amounts of ice cream because the scoops were served in different sized bowls. Not yet knowing about optical illusions or how to measure volume, they perceive one helping as being bigger than the other even though they are not. When it comes to judging time, children simply don't understand that time seems to pass more quickly when you are enjoying yourself than when you are waiting to enjoy yourself. Not being able to use clocks as an objective standard by which to correctly evaluate how much time they each have spent playing games, they accuse me of being unfair based on faulty perceptions.
Second, they sometimes do not have a mature enough understanding of justice to make a proper judgment. For example, they might think I was unfair in not giving their baby brother any ice cream at all. In this instance they need to expand their definition of justice to something beyond "the same amount of stuff for everyone." The truth is, it is not unjust for me to withhold sweets from a baby. It is my ice cream and I can give it to whomever I please. If I deem it unwise to give unhealthy to a baby, that is a perfectly just decision. In fact, I wouldn't even have to give the girls equal portions and it would still be just, as it is my right as the owner to dispense it how I see fit. However, I don't expect the girls to have that sophisticated a conception of justice at age 4 or 7. That is one more example of where their understanding needs maturation.
I got thinking about this phenomenon the other day when a listener emailed me about the seeming injustice of God. He didn't see how it was fair that people who were basically good get sent to hell. (There was much more to the question and to my on-air response but for now I want to focus on one aspect of it.) Part of my response dealt with the idea that we are like children when dealing with God. We are too uniformed and immature to understand everything that happens. That is not to say that we should not try to understand more fully, it is just to state a fact about our current condition. The bottom line is that if we think God isn't being fair, it is due to some lack on our part, not his. Often God will help us see things more clearly – perhaps not see things completely, as that would be impossible (we are not God) – but at least with a little better perspective than before.
For example, when Job complained that God was not being fair, God chided him for being short-sighted and helped him realize that perhaps the creator and sustainer of the universe knew what was happening in that universe better than one of the creatures. God's answer to Job consisted of a theology lesson. Job realized he was ignorant and repented of his accusations. When Moses beseeched God to save Sodom and Gomorrah, he argued that God was not being just in destroying it because there must be some righteous people there. However, when the truth came to light, it was clear that God was perfectly just, as they couldn't find any. In Jesus' parable of the workers in the vineyard, the master hires workers at different times of the day and then pays them all the same amount at the end, regardless of how many hours they had worked. It didn't seem fair to those that had worked more, but in fact it was perfectly just, as Jesus explained.
In each of these cases, people questioned the justice of God based on incorrect information or an inmature view of justice. God answered each complaint with education and assurance that He was, in fact, doing right. I beleive that is part of the answer to the question about hell. Yes, it may seem injust, but that is probably because we don't know all the facts and/or our understanding of justice needs more development. I suspect that is also part of the answer to all the other times each day when we (probably quietly) accuse God of not being fair to us.