As some of you may have guessed, last week when I wrote about being censured—rightly so—I was alluding to jury duty. Once a jury has been selected, the judge gives instructions that members are not to discuss the case with one another, with the lawyers or the judge himself, with any members of the media, with family, friends, or spouses. And we are not to share it on Facebook, blog about it, or put any information onto the Internet.
None of that last part of the instructions was in place the last time I had jury duty. It’s necessary and appropriate, surely, and not hard to follow for a short, two-day trial. I think I’d find it much more burdensome if I was serving on a jury for a case that ran for weeks.
All that aside, the judge of the case for which I was impaneled brought up the issue of the presumption of innocence, which is standard practice in a criminal proceeding in the US. The judge explains that the jury must not assume guilt simply because the defendant has been arrested or because he does not testify on his own behalf. In fact, he is to be considered innocent of the crime until the prosecuting attorney presents evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to prove guilt.
I understand this provision in our judicial system. It was intended to protect innocent people from falling victim to mob mentality. If the evidence doesn’t prove the defendant committed the crime, he must be declared not guilty.
The problem is that this approach has led to our present day adversarial system. No one is actually trying to find out the truth of a matter. Rather, the prosecutor is trying to produce enough evidence to convict and the defense attorney is trying to create enough doubt to acquit.
Consequently, defendants with bad lawyers might go to jail even if they are innocent, while others with good lawyers might escape punishment, though guilty.
Beyond that, I started thinking today, that perhaps this approach to jurisprudence has undergirded society’s belief in the goodness of humans. If we are innocent until proven otherwise, doesn’t it seem reasonable that we are therefore good?
In fact, Scripture states the opposite–humans are guilty from birth. Oh, not guilty of breaking some law created by human institutions, but guilty in a much larger sense. We are guilty before God because our thinking, our nature, is anti-God.
That’s really what the sin nature is. From birth we are in rebellion against God. We ignore Him, refuse to accept His authority over us, choose to elevate ourselves in His place, and willfully go against what He tells us to do.
The thing about our guilt is that we don’t need someone to prove us guilty. We have the testimony of omniscient God who knows our thoughts and words before a single one makes it to our tongue.
It’s sobering to realize that God holds us accountable for our thoughts. I was talking with a friend recently about what we write. Both of us admitted to times we have put down mean, spiteful, flippant, unkind things–then deleted them. Ah, it’s as if we never had those thoughts, to the eyes of those who read the revised version. But not to God. He knows what we deleted. Those are the thoughts He holds us accountable for.
We can whitewash our behavior for other people, but there’s no whitewashing our insides which God sees and knows.
Not when the first command is to love God with our entire life–mind, strength, heart, and soul. Who reaches to that lofty aspiration?
We know we don’t because if we did, we’d also keep the second command–to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We love ourselves so much that we make sure we have a roof over our heads and food on our table. Then why are there homeless in the world? Why are there people who don’t have enough to eat? If we were good as a people, innocent, we’d take care of other people the same way we take care of ourselves.
But we don’t.
Because we are not good or innocent.
And that’s why Jesus came.
He was the one person who didn’t have the bent toward sin. The one person who could stand before God and be declared innocent. The one truly good person who was qualified to sacrifice Himself for the rest of us guilty ones, if we but believe.