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Whenever the Lord raised up a judge...he was with the judge. The Spirit of the Lord came on them. — Judges 2:18 and 3:10
I was downtown St. Paul the other day and drove past the courthouse.
Although it's been over a couple of decades since I was selected to sit on a jury for the murder trial of a sixteen-year-old, just driving by the place brought memories flooding back as if it were yesterday.
I had been selected by the defense because I had a sixteen-year-old son at the time. It was one of the most surreal experiences I've ever had. We handled the gun that was used in the shooting. We saw horrific pictures and videos of the victim sprawled out on the ground. Heard stories from both sides. It was nauseating. I felt torn in two. And I couldn't share anything with anyone.
Yet, during the proceeding, I was impressed with the judge that presided over the case. He was gentle. Caring. Firm. Fair.
Foremost, he was impartial. He heard all the witnesses and any other evidence presented by the parties of the case. He assessed the credibility and arguments of the parties, and then issued a ruling based on the jury's decision regarding the case.
We deliberated nearly 12 hours. It was emotionally grueling to imagine what would happen to a sixteen-year-old sent away to prison for life. We wrestled with the circumstances that led up to the crime, but we finally agreed on a sentence.
When the verdict was read, I started to sob. I cried for the family of the victim who had left a sweet little two-year-old girl behind. One parent in prison, the other dead. It was heartbreaking. I cried for the sixteen-year-old sentenced to life. I cried for myself and the other jurists who had been exposed to such horrors.
Afterward, the judge dismissed everyone from the courtroom and walked over to the jurist box. He kindly shook each of our hands. With all the gentleness in his heart, he said that this case had been incredibly difficult for him, and he could tell by the tears in our eyes that it had been painful for us as well. He reminded us that if he were to have made the decision himself, he would have come to same verdict. Guilty.
Guilty. That's how I had felt most of my growing up years. I heard this statement bandied about time and again throughout my childhood and teen years. The judgment seat of Christ. I viewed God with a gavel in his hand just waiting to bring me to my knees in trepidation. He appeared vindictive. Harsh. Angry.
But it wasn't until this experience of seeing how wise and gentle our judge was that I began to have a change of heart. I sat up for hours reading about what God expected of judges in the Bible.
Judges must always be just in their sentences, not noticing whether a person is poor or rich; they must always be perfectly fair. — Leviticus 19:15
If God required a judge to be perfectly fair, to pay no regard to whether folks were rich or poor, black, brown or white, then I know his heart is precious beyond this.
John tells us that God so loved this old world of ours, despite all of our uglies, he sent only son, Jesus to provide a way of redemption. (John 3:16) He continues in verse 17 to say that God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn it, but to save the world through him. Because God doesn't want anyone to perish but to simply turn back toward him. (2nd Peter 3:9)
I know longer view God as vindictive, harsh or angry. I see him as above all loving. Kind. Fair. Impartial. Gentle. With a father's heart for each of us, regardless of what we've done.
If you have been struggling like I have to believe that God is loving, kind and gentle, listen to his own words that say…
I have loved you, O my people, with an everlasting love; with loving-kindness I have drawn you to me. — Jeremiah 31:3
Now we can come fearlessly right into God's presence, assured of his glad welcome when we come with Christ and trust in him. — Ephesians 3:12