Anaheim SDA Church
Mid-week Pastor’s Update
February 9th, 2022
“Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! Amos 5:24
Earlier this week I got called to a responsibility of citizenship; not a joyful one for most, but surely a good for society and therefore an honor to contribute to: jury duty. Though I didn’t relish having to clear my schedule or spend most of a day sitting in a room, I thought it would be interesting, and wondered if maybe I’d even be placed on a jury (?). Though in the end I didn’t, observing the early aspects of how the process works was fascinating. I got a glimpse into an aspect of society that I don’t often think about, but that is truly at the core of the stable and free society we live in.
As I was on my way to the 3rd floor waiting area there at the Santa Ana courthouse, I saw the wall of pictures of past judges (pictured above), and thought of all the decisions that had come across their attention over the years, which they’d had to rule on. Not surprisingly, my mind went back to Bible times when judges were the cornerstone of Israelite society, and I was kind of awed to think I was in the presence of the modern-day equivalent (including the living judges currently serving). The administering (“administration”) of justice is one of the highest callings outlined in scripture.
Moses was, among other things, a judge over the Israelites in their desert wandering times, and would decide on disputes between contesting parties. In Exodus chapter 18:13-18, we find that there was so much of this work to be done, it was overwhelming and exhausting for him, and his father-in-law wisely advised him to establish a tiered system of judges (“over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens” v. 21), and only have the toughest cases brought to him. This system worked well, and continued into Israel’s moving into the Promised Land.
Furthermore, we have the book of Judges in our Bibles: this was actually God’s intended plan for Israel – to have judges over the people, and of course priests and prophets in their respective roles, but no “king” or earthly governmental structure to be over the people. Ironically, the book of Judges is one of the most lawless and “crazy” books of the Old Testament, showing that our human nature is very hard to keep in check unless a centralized authority with a heavy hand is over us.
And then in the minor prophets in the latter third of the Old Testament, you get repeated outcries for justice in Israel and Judah, in that perhaps the most harmful aspect of the society’s straying from God’s principles was the unrestrained abuse of vulnerable ones: widows, orphans, aliens, the poor, etc. God, in the Amos passage cited above, describes that he is sick of the people’s religious festivals and rites in a society in which justice for the marginalized is overlooked. This lack of compassion & justice is identified as a key reason Israel fell into the discipline of captivity, perhaps so everyone could experience what it feels like to be among the marginalized.
And we today, of course, strive for justice in our daily living (in addition to mercy & humility, Micah 6:8), but in looking at that wall of black & white photos, I knew I was seeing folks who operated on a whole other level of determining justice in our present context.
How many of these faces were of upright, honest judges? I wondered. How many were crooked, prejudiced, receivers of bribes, or alternatively, too lenient? Great damage is done to society in any of these possibilities. I’m of course thankful that there is a system of checks and balances within the justice system, I don’t believe judges can just ‘go rogue’ and do whatever they want: there is precedent to guide decisions, there is a system of appeals and levels of courts for cases in which a 2nd (or 3rd, etc.) opinion is desired & merited.
But I was just impressed by what a solemn duty it is for a society (any society, even on a secular level) to evaluate and administer justice. In a world where the powerful & ambitious tend to steamroll right over the meek and humble (whom Jesus identifies as being seen & affirmed by God – Matthew 5:5), systems need to be put in place to correct & prevent abuse, otherwise the society as a whole can become a twisted, miserable experience for the vast majority.
And of course, there are many types of judges and types of justice: criminal court, civil court, military court, immigration court, federal court, financial court, trial & appellate courts, etc. All of these need specialists, professionals, sharp minds examining, establishing, and debating laws to keep the “playing field level” as much as possible.
On that day of jury duty, I heard principles of fairness asserted, such as “innocent until proven guilty”, “trial by jury”, and “confirmation beyond a reasonable doubt” – all of which of course serve to protect the rights of the innocent, and lean on the side of caution if determination is not discernible. As bad as it is to let a guilty person go free, it is a greater harm to punish and/or imprison an innocent person (which, ironically, also lets the guilty person go free!)
So as much as I have concern for accessibility of justice for the marginalized in society (the wealthy being able to pay for better representation, for example), I am glad that such care and attention is given to matters of justice. Surely God is looking down now, just as He did in Israel’s day, seeing whether our society is administering justice fairly and equitably. I hope, in the majority of cases, he smiles on our efforts, on the processes, and on the outcomes of these cases. But let it never be an excuse to sit back and thing that further striving is not called for.
I pray that you and your families are blessed throughout this week, and that you will have a sense of gratitude for our system of justice we live within, even as that system is subject to God’s far greater justice (to which all people in the workings of earthly justice institutions and procedures will answer to as well).
Greetings to your families from ours, and May God bless and keep you ‘till we meet again.
Pr. Mark Tatum