A brief recap of my discussion of this issue so far:
– The relationship between the civil law and the Kingdom of God is difficult to talk about because (a) I don’t want to make clients nervous that I’m talking about them (which I’m not) and (b) there is a risk that readers aren’t going to accept some pretty harsh truths.
– At the heart of the civil justice system is a justice narrative: an assumption that there are good guys and bad guys, and that – by revealing their story – the system can ferret out the difference between the two. This causes litigants to fight for vindication, and ordinary, flawed people can suddenly become like Frankenstein’s monster.
– Quite often, the situation is not nearly as simple as deciding who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. Civil lawsuits often involve complex, competing interests, both of which are legitimate, but only one of which can be recognized and enforced.
– Worse yet, all systems of civil justice are fatally flawed because they are human institutions. They rely on human recollection of events (which recollection is inevitably consciously and/or unconsciously distorted to serve the end of the litigants), and they rely on an impossible assumption: that human beings are capable of judging truth based on hearing the testimony of human witnesses.
This brings me to a post that will be perfectly obvious to most (if not all) of you, but which I fell compelled to put into words to continue to lay the foundation for some things that I want to say in future posts.
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning…”
Here is the problem: as Jesus well knew, when people don’t get along with each other, something has to be done about it. Divorcing your wife may not be the best thing in the world, but it beats forcing her to stay with you where (in the ancient world) she may be abused or even killed by you.
I can think of at least two reasons why this principle continues to be true:
1. We don’t want people hurting and killing each other because they think they have no other option. If you start building a house without my permission on property that I believe is my land, and there is no civil justice system, I may resort to violence – even murder – to protect my property right.
2. Money makes the world go ’round. At least in our culture, it does. Problem is, without a civil justice system, we might not trust each other, and money may stop changing hands. If you tell me the car you are selling will get 45 miles to the gallon, I need to know that I will have recourse if you’re lying to me. Otherwise, I might not buy it. Likewise, you probably would not take a check from me in payment for the car unless you knew that you would have a way to collect it if my bank doesn’t honor it.
This is a more economically technical issue – but there is great truth to it. The civil justice system gives us confidence to engage in commerce.
I think this is the reason why, as I said very early on, its almost a dirty secret that the system doesn’t necessarily work that well. I often wonder if people really knew how tenuous their ability to secure relief from the system really was, whether our entire economy really would come to a screeching halt. And there are some people who have become aware of that reality, believe me: injured people disillusioned becuase of the prospects of little or no recovery, businesspeople enraged because they have to pay money to settle a seemingly frivilous claim, consumers perplexed about why they can’t find a lawyer for an obviously good case becuase the case ultimately involves minimal damages, and the economics of prosecuting it just aren’t worthwhile.
But better – much better – to let people have a day in court and tell their side of the story, than to require them to take to the streets to exact their own form of justice. They may lose. They may even lose unjustly. But at least they were involved in a system that tries to be as fair as humanly possible in addressing their complaints – a system that allows their peers to judge the facts. And, because the civil system exists, our police forces and criminal justice systems are given some legitimacy to respond to criminal acts that attempt to even those same scores.
Having laid this foundation – I think I’m now ready to start talking about the really hard stuff for me: the interrelationship between Kingdom people and the courts.