There are days when you can’t get what you want. The Lord puts you in a situation where you have to adjust. These are moments to embrace because you never know what God may teach you. I had one of those days.
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I knew it was bound to happen eventually – and it did. Jury Duty. Yuck. Reluctantly I opened the dreaded notice and discovered I would be on call for the entire month of July. Yippee. Let’s say I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy at the thought of having to put a whole month of summer on hold before it even began.
The day came when I was told to report early one morning for a possible Jury Trial that day. I’ve never done this before, so I was apprehensive about what to expect. Of course, I obeyed my government’s command and showed up at the courthouse that morning (Romans 13:1).
Once I made my way inside, I took a seat on one of the benches outside the courtroom. I scanned the room and surveyed all the long faces sitting there. It seemed like they weren’t particularly thrilled or excited about serving their civic duty either.
I won’t bore you with the details of the jury selection, but it was fascinating to witness the process. It took about 2-½ hours for the State’s Attorney, Judge, and Defense Attorney to narrow down the 70+ candidates to just 13 (12 jurors and one alternate). By the time the jury box was full, the highest number called was 60 something. I was #93.
I have to confess after spending my morning in the courtroom I was slightly bummed that they did not select me. Half my day was already gone, and now my interest was piqued. What was the case about today? What was the alleged crime? Secretly I began hoping they would pick me, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen.
But out of nowhere, the State’s Attorney abruptly asked to strike Juror #1 (not hit him of course, but excuse him from serving). So juror #1 was asked to step out of the box, and he was free to go. But now one seat was empty that they needed to fill. They called the next person on the list. Guess who it was? Surprise, surprise. Little ol’ me, juror #93.
As I took my place in the 1st chair of the jury box, the Judge preceded to tell me this particular spot made me the forerunner and was that okay. I had no idea what that meant (obviously, I haven’t watched much Law and Order) and asked if he would explain it to me.
The Judge said the forerunner was the spokesperson for the jury, responsible for communicating between the Bailiff and us. I would be given the evidence and would read the verdict at the end of the trial. It also meant I was the facilitator during the deliberation and responsible for guiding the discussion. Sweet (well, and scary too).
I knew this was all God’s providence (Jeremiah 10:23). I went from being dismissed for the day to quickly becoming not only a juror but the forerunner. Naturally, I answered the Judge and calmly said “sure, I can do that” as I smiled silently in my heart for God’s kindness.
I learned some valuable lessons that day. It was only a short trial that lasted for just one day, but what I gained will stay with me for a lifetime. Here are the main things I took away:
There’s Always More to the Story
The State’s Attorney and Defense Attorney presented to the jury specific details surrounding the charges. They each made their case and gave the evidence they believed was pertinent to either convict or pardon the defendant.
The problem was, there were missing pieces to the story, at least in my mind. As I sat and listened, particularly to the questioning of the only witness (the arresting officer) I had questions that others weren’t asking, or answered for that matter. I kept hoping one of the attorneys would ask what my inquiring mind wanted to know.
Times, locations, and just who was the owner of the property where they arrested the defendant? Did they know each other? Were they strangers? But for reasons unknown to myself and the jurors, we were not privy to that information.
During deliberation, one of the jurors wrote down some of our questions on a piece of paper and asked me to give it to the Bailiff. Even though my judiciary knowledge is severely lacking, I was pretty sure they wouldn’t provide the answers we wanted. It turns out, I was right. The Judge wrote back a note that said: “you must come to a decision based on the evidence you have.” Oh, snap!
Even if we had that information, there’s no way a limited, finite person can know all there is to know about a situation. It’s impossible. There is only One that’s truly omniscient. The Lord is all knowing about all things with perfect clarity and accuracy. There is no matter, actual or possible, outside of His knowledge and complete understanding (Isaiah 40:28).
Life lesson #1: You don’t know everything, and neither do I. Not even close. Because of that, you must think of yourself with sober judgment (Romans 12:3). The knowledge of your lack of knowledge should create in you a humble attitude (Proverbs 11:2). It should cause you to be careful when concluding a person’s actions and intent (1 Samuel 16:7).
Don’t be quick to reach a verdict about someone, especially on disputable matters and where there’s reasonable doubt. There’s always more to the story and details you don’t know. Be humble in your assessments and take the time to gather more information before you pronounce judgment on someone (Proverbs 18:13, 17).
People See Things Differently
Of course, I knew this before becoming a juror, but there’s nothing quite like sitting in a room for hours on end with 11 strangers to make this more glaringly obvious. It was intriguing to hear how each person interpreted the details presented in the case. The physical evidence, statements, the demeanor of the witness, everything, was viewed through 12 different lenses.
When we entered the deliberating room, I was reasonably confident of my verdict and thought the other jurors would feel the same. Boy, was I ever wrong! The majority (9) were convinced of one opinion while the minority (myself and two others) settled on the opposite.
Each juror was interpreting the case based on their perceptions of what they heard, saw, and felt. They filtered their decision through their presuppositions. These are the things that have shaped them into who they are and how they think.
Things like education, experiences, economic status, community, childhood, personality, strengths, and weaknesses, all play a factor into the grid they’ve developed through which they process life.
Life lesson #2: As you interact with others, mainly through conflicts, remember people see things differently than you. When you understand a person’s shaping influences, you’ll be better at resolving disagreements. And, you’ll do it with grace and wisdom (Colossians 4:6).
All people have some wrong ways of thinking that need correction (Romans 12:2). We have a corrupted nature, and no sinful person sees life with perfect clarity and without error.
There Is Wisdom In the Community
We did our due diligence and discussed at length the facts of the case. We went over and over the scenario. I read the definitions several times of the specific charges and what “ reasonable doubt” meant. After listening, learning, debating, examining, and re-examining every bit of information we possessed, we came to a unanimous decision.
The points others brought up were things I hadn’t considered before we walked into the deliberation room. Each person’s input was valuable and added another piece to the puzzle. At times this made the decision even harder to reach, but it was necessary for agreeing.
The book of Proverbs talks about this idea. “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” – Proverbs 11:14
I came to appreciate each juror and what they brought to the table. I believe we handled our differing opinions and interpretations with kindness and consideration. I was honored to serve alongside those 11 folks and satisfied with what we accomplished at the end of the day.
Life Lesson #3: Seek guidance and input from others. Don’t be wise in your own eyes, thinking you have it all figured out (Isaiah 5:21). God has given us the gift of one another to bring clarity to our ideas and opinions. That’s important because we’re all a little self-deceived (Galatians 6:3).
Our System Is Good, but It’s Not Perfect
The judiciary system in our country is impressive. I have great admiration for the process and the careful thought it must have taken to plan out and establish. I’m not sure how it could be better, but even still, it’s not faultless.
One of the things that frustrated me during the deliberation was having to come to a verdict I believed in my heart was wrong. But there’s an essential element juror’s must consider, reasonable doubt. The burden is on the State to prove the guilt of the defendant. And if they aren’t able to do this with substantial evidence, the defendant is presumed innocent.
To not keep you in suspense any longer, the verdict we came to was “not guilty.” The evidence all pointed to a person that broke the law. But, the reasonable doubt was there. Those missing pieces I talked about earlier kept coming up. We didn’t have sufficient evidence to give a definitive guilty sentence.
The Judge said something before we left to deliberate that stood out to me. I shared it again with the jurors as we were coming close to a unanimous decision.
He said something like “You can look outside through this window and see when it’s raining. That is clear evidence to conclude its raining. But what if you only see a man walk in the building with a raincoat and umbrella. Can you come to the same conclusion based on those facts alone? Is that substantial enough to say for certain, without a reasonable doubt, it’s raining outside?”
The defendant, yeah, he had on a raincoat. He was carrying one of those huge umbrellas too. Heck, he was even dripping wet in my opinion. But even still, I had to rest in the fact that we followed the system the way they designed it. We came up with the best verdict we could with the knowledge we had. Even if the man was guilty, there was not enough evidence to convict him.
Life Lesson #4: Only God can declare a sound judgment and bring about ultimate justice (Acts 17:31). After all, He is the One right Judge that will call all people to account for their crimes (2 Corinthians 5:10).
And we are all guilty before Him. The evidence is clear, and there is no reasonable doubt otherwise. We’ve broken God’s laws and rebelled against His authority (Ecclesiastes 7:20). We deserve punishment. The sentence? Eternal death (Romans 6:23).
But the Lord is a merciful Judge. He provides the only way possible for our acquittal. Jesus is our Advocate that fully satisfied the debt we owed and paid for the crimes we committed. The cost? His precious blood (John 19:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21). He took upon Himself God’s wrath and bore our sin on a cruel cross so that we can be declared “not guilty” (Colossians 2:13-14; 1 Peter 2:24).
Oh, how amazing! Oh, how divine! There aren’t enough words to adequately express the value of the gift of salvation, offered to all that would put their trust in Jesus. If you have received His pardon, you are free indeed (John 8:36). Your condemnation is gone and your guilt removed. The Lord has dropped the charges that stood against you (Romans 8:1, 33).
But if you have not, I implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God today (2 Corinthians 5:20). It would be a dreadful thing for you when you receive your summons and stand before the Judge with no defense. Pleading your case won’t work. Trust in the Advocate that has already paid your fine. Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).