The Kingdom and the Law: A Preliminary Confession

Okay, boys and girls. Christmas is over and I can delay this no longer. Time to talk about the relationship between the Kingdom of God and the civil justice system.

But before I get started, I should get a confession out of the way. I have a very hard time talking about the interaction between faith and my occupation. There are two reasons for this. One is fairly innocent. The other is…well, I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, the relatively innocent reason: client confidentiality. The things that happen in my office or in isolated corners of a deposition room or a courtroom are confidential. My clients trust me to keep them to myself, and I do just that. I can’t afford to kiss and tell, even if I think it is for a very good reason like illustrating the interrelationship between the need for God’s redemptive work and the things people go through in litigation. For this reason, the stories I tell in connection with this series are complete fiction. They aren’t anything that has ever happened to me and they won’t even be based on (loosely or otherwise) something that actually happened to me. I’m going to fictionalize the stories from square one (names, events, facts of the cases, etc), hoping only to capture some of the broader aspects of my experiences within them.

I go out of my way to say these things because it occurs to me that some of my clients may read this space, and I don’t want them to be nervous that I’m going to talk about them or their problems directly or even indirectly (changing only the names or some superficial fact, etc). That is not going to happen.

Now…for the second, harder reason: people have much loftier expectations from the civil justice system than what it actually delivers. People have this idea that the system is capable of reliably sorting out right and wrong, good and evil, black and white, truthfulness and lies, etc., etc. In actuality, as I will discuss in some detail, it isn’t nearly as good at these things as you would expect. Being told the truth about what is happening in the civil justice system can really cause a lot of dis-ease with those who aren’t involved in it on a day to day basis. For that reason, most lawyers, I think, are accustomed to keeping those truths to themselves rather than speaking it to outsiders who – in the infamous words of Jack Nicholson – “can’t handle the truth.”

I would like to tell you that I refrain from correcting people’s perceptions about the system because I want to spare other people the unpleasantness of those realities. But my motives are less pure: I have a fear that if I tell that truth, people are going to conclude that I’ve become Jack Nicholson’s character myself, overly jaded, and not nearly the kind, gentle person that they think me to be.

On the surface, the things that I want to (but don’t) say will sound like the kinds of observations that would be made by someone who is distrustful and eager to justify his own cynical manipulation of the system. But the truth is that I’ve become comfortable with this perspective for the opposite reason – I’ve come to understand that there are certain ways that only God can judge, and for that reason, I don’t have a strong need to put great trust in human institutions. I can (somewhat) comfortably accept that such institutions are imperfect in their efforts to administer civil justice, knowing that a merciful, loving God is ultimately in charge of the universe and of people’s lives.

So when people start talking about how great it must be to be a Christian lawyer because I can be involved in “justice” first-hand, I cringe a little and don’t say much. It is – quite honestly – because I don’t think there will be time to fully explain my perspective. More specifically I won’t be able to explain why – though it sounds harsh – it is a perspective that is actually quite spiritually awake and healthy. I’m afraid that, instead, I will only get enough out for people to conclude that I am a bona fide jerk like Jack Nicholson.

And I’m not. I promise.

Next up: Why I ain’t Perry Mason either

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