The Kingdom and the Law: Redemption Goes to Court

If Jesus were a lawyer, what sort-of lawyer would he be?

I’m guessing this is not a question that you ponder very often. But, for me, it is important.

I used to spend a lot of time wringing my hands over how (of if) I’ll make it to heaven. These days, however, I devote most of my energies to a task that is much more scripturally relevant: bringing heaven to the places where I am.* In coming around to this perspective, of course, I had to come to grips with what it means to bring Jesus into my law practice and, ultimately, into the courtroom.

The answers to this question did not come as easily as you might think. You might expect that Christian lawyering is all about either:
(a) helping good people (who are completely in the “right”) secure justice from bad people (who always deserve what is coming to them); or
(b) helping good people secure justice for themselves, because bad people, who know better, have made a frivilous claim against them.

In this series of posts, I’ve been trying to show how, for me, its not that simple. In short, here are the problems with the “I’m the good guy and you’re the bad guy” approach to Christian lawyering:
1. I don’t know whose going to win or lose when I take a case – much less who is right and wrong. I don’t know all of the facts, and I have no magical ability to predict them. We have a whole system that is supposed to make the decision about who is right and who isn’t. It would be arrogant and short-sighted for me to think that my client ought to be vindicated in every case.
2. Our system assumes that courtrooms are filled with good guys and bad guys. But they aren’t. They’re filled with flawed, hurting people – just like you and me. These people need redemption a lot more than they need vindication in a civil justice system. For that reason, I find it to be important to not “demonize” one side or the other.
3. Even if my client turns out to be “right,” there is no guarantee that the process is going to deliver a just result for her. If securing a just result for a client who is “right” is the only reason I’m in, I am often wasting my time. Better to help her in other ways.
4. Jesus seemed to have almost no concern with individual issues of civil justice (though, he was quite concerned with larger issues of social justice). In fact, when it came to lawsuits, Jesus’ primary advice was to stay out of them. I think that this is because he knew that lawsuits are breeding grounds for bitterness, anger, and deception. I’m not particularly interested in fostering those things in my client and the remaining parties, and litigating a case with a sense of (often misplaced and arrogant) moral outrage is the quickest way to do just that.

So – to get back to my original question – if its not a black-and-white, good guys versus bad guys world in the courtroom, what does it mean for Jesus’ presence to be felt there?

Here are a few of the answers that I have discovered over the years:

First, there is a sense in which I help to administer justice – by functioning as an effective part of a larger legal community. I am neither judge nor jury. This is a hard thing for some people to understand – but my job isn’t ultimately to make the calls that judges and juries make. My job is to work within a larger system to ensure that my client’s story is heard. As such, I do pursue civil justice – but it is done within a community of people (which includes my opponents) who work together to achieve that end, rather than in the me-versus-the-bad-guys sense.

Second, I want to do what I can to redeem the process from the mire of anger and deception (including, most of all, self-deception) that always threatens to consume the parties. I want to find a way to encourage everyone to keep a healthy perspective, and – as much as possible – to respect each other’s views, even though we can’t ultimately agree on the all of the issues that are before the court. While holding firmly to my client’s legal position, I want to be an example of generosity, courtesy, and sensitivity – even toward my opponents.

Finally, I also believe that, by making my client’s story heard, I am doing something that is redemptive and Christ-like in and of itself. Here’s why:

In Brian McLaren’s latest book, called The Secret Message of Jesus (I reviewed it here), McLaren discusses the nature of Jesus’ miracles. Actually, McLaren prefers not to call them “miracles.” Instead, he likes to call them the same thing that they are called in scripture: “signs and wonders.” They are wonders because they inspire amazement and awe. They are “signs” because they show how the Kingdom of God has come near.

What does the Kingdom of God offer? Have a look at Jesus’ miracles if you want to know: people are fed, the dead are raised, the deaf hear, the blind see. Sometimes – and I will get back to this in a minute – those who are mute will speak.

Jesus miracles are “signs” of both spiritual and physical healing. In a sense, we are spiritually deaf and blind – even dead – and Jesus comes to change that. But the Kingdom of God is also about the physical world – it does offer food to the hungry and healing to the sick. Thus, physicians, nurses, eye doctors, and those who are involved in feeding the hungry – whether across town or across the world – are doing the work of Jesus, bringing heaven to the places where they are.

This is where I come in. I give people voices in a complex system of rules and procedures where they would otherwise, effectively, be unable to speak for themselves . They may win their case. They may lose their case (rightly or wrongly). But if we can get to the end of the process and my client feels like their voice was heard, then – in a sense – someone who was otherwise mute has spoken.

Of all of the things that I do – the thing that is most satisfying is to sit down beside my client after I have argued a case and sense a sigh of relief from them. When I sense that relief, I know I have done my job. It is a great feeling when you know that, even though you were afraid that you wouldn’t be understood, and even though you may not prevail, you have – at least – been heard.

I realize that the motivations that these principles create aren’t nearly as dramatic as the motivations that seem to drive TV lawyers. But they are real. And they are very important to me.

Honestly, there are days where the effort feels like a complete failure – and it probably is. But I also am convinced that maybe, on occasion – just maybe – because of what I say and do in this process, the Kingdom of Heaven has come near to those who are involved in it.

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*The ideas in this sentence were liberally adapted from some wisdom that Jedi Master Dallas Willard shared in The Divine Conspiracy : Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God. This idea was also explored in detail in a series of posts called The Flannelgraph Kingdom. You can find a link to those posts in the sidebar.

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