Seen as either a massive inconvenience, or an excuse to get out of work, it’s a civic duty that we, as Americans, can be asked to undertake.
Last week, my time was up.
While I didn’t expect to actually be chosen for a trial, I was, which I figured wouldn’t be so bad. I thought maybe I’d hear an interesting case, get to experience the legal process and have a story to tell.
Then I found out it would be a civil case.
About yard water drainage.
And was scheduled to last eight days.
Now, it looked like it would be an unbearable week about drainage tiles, ditches and neighborly feuds. In the end, though, it was a good experience with some friendly people during which I got to see the legal process at work. Very, very, slow work, but work nonetheless.
But, on the final night after deliberation and the delivery of the verdict, I was struck by how much something as simple and mundane as jury duty can show us the character of God.
As a jury, we had heard all the evidence, the closing statements, and then were sent to the jury room to deliberate. When we started the week, I thought this would be an easy case to decide and we’d breeze through - maybe even finish early. But, as we entered hour three of our deliberations, that plan was well in the rearview.
We found ourselves arguing over the most minute points. The phrasing of a sentence became the hinge in the case. Remember, this isn’t a life and death case. This is a case about water drainage and awarding money (or not) to people who, we found out later, already had plenty to begin with.
So why, then, did we struggle to come to an agreement on the verdict? Why did one juror say, as we returned to the jury room after delivering said verdict, “That was hard. I don’t feel good about any of this”?
It was hard because we’re made in God’s image and He’s a God of justice.
We didn’t want to get it wrong. Even on this small, seemingly trivial thing, we didn’t want to mess it up. We wanted to make sure that we returned a verdict that accurately found in favor of the correct party, and didn’t penalize someone unjustly.
Even after the trial, when everything was completed, we peppered the judge with questions to try to make sure we had gotten it right.
Where do we get that sense of justice, of right and wrong? Where did one of the jurors get the feeling that caused him to say, “They were horrible to these people and should pay for it.” Obviously, that sense of justice comes from God. But, our sense of justice is vastly different from God’s, isn’t it?
Our sense of justice is often like that juror. This person did something wrong, so they should pay…they should be punished. That sense is right. People should have consequences for their actions. But, God’s justice is both far more severe and vastly different in delivery than ours.
He said that, yes, there are consequences and, yes, you have done things wrong (at an astronomically more severe level than a civil court case - but against a perfectly holy God), yet He put our consequence - our punishment - on Jesus, rather than on us. His justice is not only perfect, but eternal. But, rather than sentence us all to that verdict with our first transgression, He made a way for us to be forgiven, through repentance and faith in the finished work of Christ.
So, as I reflected on the week on my drive home (which, ironically, after a week of discussing drainage issues on a residential lawn, was in the rain) I couldn’t help but consider what a gift it was for God to give us this sense of justice, this sense of right and wrong. But, what an even bigger gift that he made a way to satisfy His justice without placing the punishment on us.
In late March, Peggy Noonan had a wonderfully insightful piece about the current status of the division between Americans in our current political climate. If you haven’t read it, you really should.
While the entire article is well worth your time, there were a couple salient points that really stood out to me as the root of the problem.
Old America used to accept our splits as part of the price of being us—numerous, varied, ornery. Current America, with its moderating institutions (churches) going down and its dividing institutions (the internet) rising, sees our polarization not as something to be healed but a reason for being, something to get up for. There’s a finality to it, a war-to-the-death quality.
This, in a nutshell, seems to be the primary cause of so much division throughout our country, and the world. Where the church used to be seen as the moderator, the common denominator among most of the culture, it is now being pushed to the fringes and so minimized that its effect has lessened. Whether it is politicians and news media constantly berating the faithful for their beliefs, or the churches themselves desperately trying to look just like popular culture, the result is like Noonan says - the traditional moderation that could be affected by the church has diminished and, in many cases, disappeared.
As the church lost its mediating influence in society, the division, rhetoric, and “us-vs-them” mentality grew. Then, those smoldering feelings were stoked into a raging fire by splashing on the gasoline of the internet. People would be exposed to others with whom they disagree, and their anonymity online would build their courage to attack people in ways they never would in person. Additionally, we would be connected to numerous others with whom we did agree - thus creating digital lynch mobs in search of anyone who would dare cross us.
Far too often, rather than trying to calm tempers and put out the fire, many in the church would fall prey to the same mentality and stoke the fires further - while feeling great because we would be “doing it for God.” Those growing tensions and bolstered sense of “I’m right, you’re wrong” led to the next problem that Noonan rightly identified.
Nothing can be moderate or incremental, everything must be sweeping and definitive. It is all so maximalist, and bullying.
In that environment people start to think that giving an inch is giving a yard. And so they won’t budge.
This is the crux of the problem. Again, bolstered by anonymity and encouraged by being part of a group, the attacks, disagreements, and arguments were taken to new heights. It’s unacceptable to concede that someone else’s argument may have merit. Now, if it goes against what you believe, they’re wrong, they’re evil and you are fighting on the side of good. We now use a person’s disagreement of opinion as a reason to discount their humanity and verbally (or even physically) brutalize them in the name of being “right.”
I believe there is also another element at play, subconsciously for those outside the church (and even some inside). For years now, we’ve been told we’re nothing but evolved monkeys. We have no special standing on earth, we’re just evolved primates. So, not only do you remove the potential of someone feeling shame or discomfort for insulting someone to their face (by communicating online), but you also remove any sense that you need to treat the other person with respect or dignity. Why should you? They’re nothing but a monkey.
Yes, this argument is subtle and subconscious, but I think it’s valid. When you spend time discrediting any inherent value of human beings (i.e. refusing to admit they are made in the image of God), you remove any requirement to treat them any different than any other animal. So, putting a keyboard and internet connection between them and the person they are insulting certainly won’t do anything to stop them from uttering their worst thoughts - especially when there are no real consequences.
We need to return to a time when we can disagree and realize that other people have opinions, just like we do, but that those opinions don’t (necessarily) make them bad people. We need people’s hearts to be changed to see that they (and that other person on Twitter) are both made in the image of God and should be treated as such. We need to return to a time of civility and honest debate, rather than immediately jumping to referring to the other person as “literally Hitler.”
Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the direction we’re headed.
“I attended the yoga class and I remember one day we got the giggles because we were just enjoying it so much and we thought, ‘Well, this is the way church should be. We should be able to have other aspects of our lives here,’” she said.
So much wrong in that statement alone. But, I guess this is what happens when we diminish the value of church and its lofted place in the culture is reduced. I understand the financial hardships many churches face, but this is not the solution.
Todd captures how many unbelievers (and, I dare say, even some believers) view Hell. “Sure, it’s not Heaven,” they say, “but all my friends will be there.” Or, they assume that the joy they find in sinning here on earth will continue with the same activities, in just a slightly warmer environment. Some even go as far as to say they would prefer Hell because Heaven sounds boring.
This betrays a lack of understanding of Hell that is largely the result of the church’s failure to preach on the reality of Hell for far too long.
Look at the sermons of Edwards, of Calvin, or Spurgeon. When they talked of Hell, it was never lightly or dismissively. Edwards wrote extensively about the reality of Hell, most famously in his sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Spurgeon was even quoted as saying, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies.” Why would he say such a thing if Hell is just one big party? None of these great men of the faith would have thought to trivialize the horrors of Hell.
But, today many people (and even pastors) do. They assume that Hell will not be a big deal (if they even admit to its reality). Some even go so far as to say they will be going to Hell when they die - and do so without any fear or reservation. And, while it’s easy to assume that’s just unbelievers, Christians often show a similar lack of fear about the reality of Hell.
Think of the last time you sinned. No matter what that sin was, it was an affront to the holiness of God and a violation of His law, fully deserving His wrath in Hell as its right reward. Yet, you (and I, for sure!) sinned anyway, knowing (even subconsciously) that the penalty for that sin, apart from the work of Christ, deserves punishment in Hell for eternity. So, you see, even we Christians also often fail to tremble at the thought of Hell as we should, betraying a similar lack of understanding of the gravity of Hell that unbelievers do.
Yes, we find comfort in the blood-bought promises of Christ that our sins are forgiven, but I don’t think we should dismiss Hell simply because it is not our future. Those torments, those horrors should make us tremble, should make us fear, and that fear should drive us to Christ in appreciation and admiration.
But, as with the unbeliever, the truth of Hell is absent from many modern churches and it has done a disservice to many - both saved and unsaved. Pastors, in an effort to grow their attendance, will avoid a discussion of Hell, or even outright deny its existence. They choose to focus on the love of God to the detriment of the wrath of God, thus giving an incomplete and inaccurate picture of who God is. And, by so doing, minimize the horrors of hell as well as cloud the understanding of their hearers of the justice of Hell. Not only does this fail to present the dangers of sin accurately, but it fails to properly illustrate the extent of the grace of God in saving them from those horrors.
It’s time we recaptured the doctrine of Hell and use it to implore sinners to be saved and the saved to rejoice in the Savior.
“Look, men are in a role of leadership in many areas,” Watson began. “Men are protectors. We are providers.”
“Many women would not be seeking abortions if the men involved in their lives were doing what they were supposed to be doing,” he concluded. “And that’s a challenge to myself, that’s a challenge to all men who are listening, that’s a challenge to men everywhere to step up.”