There are dozens of lawyers in my house at any given moment. You can find most of them in my living room. Whenever I turn on the TV the house suddenly fills with quick-witted sharp-talkers. There’s a crusty old gal who has her legal office in a shoe store; there are earnest, slender young prosecutors who apparently have twin degrees in law and fashion. There’s some old guy named Matlock who must be a hundred years old, but I’m convinced I’ll be dead and buried before his career on cable TV comes to an end.
We don’t even have to pay actors any more. When a high-profile case like Casey Anthony’s comes along, millions of us stop what we’re doing to hear the judgment. That day, in the middle of the afternoon, more than 5 million people tuned into the HLN network to watch. Who even knew there was a HLN network? Another million computers streamed the verdict live via CNN’s website.
Face it: we love lawyers, and we love courtrooms. Important things happen. Books are opened, charges are read, juries are seated. We love the struggle, we love the lies and intrigue, and most of all we love the moment of judgment. The verdict is read, the judgment is given, the gavel comes down and bang! the bad guy is forced to wear ugly orange clothes for the rest of his life, or the good guy is set free, into the embrace of his weeping family.
Judgment Day is great entertainment. One day the sky itself will become a big-screen TV and the ultimate court will be called to session. The people of the world will stand amazed and attentive, because justice will finally be done. And everyone loves justice.
Here is a paradox--everyone is in favor of justice, but few of us are in favor of judgment.
Who could be against justice? We want to see corporate greed called into account. We want to know that evil despots will be tracked down, pulled from their bunkers and made to stand in the light. We want hungry children to be fed; we want sick people to have medicine; we want anything that can be made right to be made right if it is in anyone’s power. And then we stub our toe, because we begin to realize: there is no justice apart from judgment. Someone must bring the gavel down.
Who loves Judgment Day? Those who need a judge to set things right. The poor of the earth are powerless in the face of overwhelming strength. Or greed. Or even intellect--we instinctively know it’s not right for the smart to deceive the slow of wit.
Who cries for justice? The scripture says that the blood of the slain cries out from the ground. A hungry child may not know the right word, but it cries for justice every time it holds out an empty bowl. The Psalms tell us that creation itself will sing and dance at the sound of justice:
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
Let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the LORD, for he comes,
He comes to judge the earth.” (Psalm 96: 12-13)
Even the one who said, “Let him who is without sin throw the first stone” looked forward to the justice of God. Just days before his death, Jesus told a story where wretched people came to a wretched end. He explained his parable by saying, “God’s kingdom is going to be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the goods. Anyone who falls on his stone will be smashed to pieces, and anyone it falls on will be crushed.” (Matthew 21: 43-44)
Justice and judgment provide twin challenges for the heart of every student of Jesus.
The first challenge is to connect justice to the judge. God’s friend Abraham asked, “Will not the Judge of the earth do right?” He pleaded for the lives of innocent people by bargaining with God. Along with Abraham, we are shocked to discover how few innocents there were. Although Abraham’s negotiation concluded with ten people, we see God’s heart when he rescued even fewer--the only righteous family in a city of thousands. This story gives us the courage to pray for justice, to pray often, and to trust the Judge will do right--even if we stop too soon.
The second challenge is to work for justice while leaving judgment to the Judge. We are called to share his heart--even some of his authority, but we must know the limits of our calling. Sometimes people who know what is right are the most dangerous among us. We mistake our knowledge for the will of God, and cross the line between representing him and taking action that belongs to him. We need to discover that the work of the cross was also a work of judgment, but the Judge of the earth took the judgment upon Himself. Do we have such a heart? We need to listen to an old man, known as “James the Just”, when he explained judgment will be merciless to the one who has shown no mercy, but mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)
Tonight I will watch the well-tailored and confident lawyers argue the law. I’ll marvel at their smarts and gimmicks. But I will also feel that faint shudder along my spine that reminds me we are only children, playing a game that will someday be very real, and very different.