“No justice, no peace!” This was the chant heard throughout our country following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin. Who would have thought that a local, tragic event in Sanford, Florida could explode so violently onto the national scene? One fatal confrontation between a neighborhood watch captain and a young, black man has sparked widespread debate and controversy reaching all the way up to the White House. Some of this should not surprise us. There is a strong desire for justice within the heart of man, for we are made in the image of the God who is just. But this one event serves as a terrible reminder of what happens when a society either rejects or neglects the reality of Divine Judgment.
Our justice system was built on the Western tradition of justice that was rooted in Biblical principles. Once the Biblical foundation is pulled out from under it, the system will inevitably implode. The cornerstone of this foundation is the recognition of a sovereign God as both the ultimate Law-giver and the final arbiter of justice. Benjamin Franklin himself, who was in no way a man of personal faith in Christ, stated in a letter his own summation of the American Religion:
I believe in one God, the creator of the universe. That he governs by his providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them.
This concept of Divine Judgment is essential to sustaining peace and order in a society of laws. Let’s look at a few of the key elements.
1. There should be a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. In common terms, this means we are to give people the benefit of the doubt. We are to put things in the best context unless evidence proves otherwise. This is not only important in matters of law but in other relationships as well. We are so quick to judge, quick to assign motives, quick to interpret thoughts and actions in a particular way. If we truly believe that one day every word and every intention will be brought to light, then can we not risk thinking others better than they might deserve? Do I want others to give me the benefit of the doubt? to have trouble doing this in our own relationships.
2. Any verdict of guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that burden of proof rests on the side of the accuser. There should be a much greater concern over punishing an innocent man than letting a guilty man go free. A society can only bear this risk if it believes that an all-knowing God will one day put every wrong to right; that true justice is inescapable in the end. A guilty man may escape for a time—either through their own deceptions, the legal gymnastics of a high price lawyer, or the incompetence of investigators—but there are no perfect crimes. How many prosecutors have overreached and overcharged in order to pursue some sort of conviction? How many innocent men and women have plea bargained their way to a lesser crime for fear of this aggressive system that offers no safe haven for the truth? I have seen this play out many times in my own little family court. I hear some commotion in the other room followed by cries and tears. Upon entering the room I am bombarded by protests and accusations amidst the chaos. What happened? Who did what to who? Knowing the unique personalities and weaknesses of my children, I am quick to pass judgment on the situation. And if I do not check myself and take the time to ascertain all the facts leading up to the conflict, I can very easily bring improper discipline to bear. Sure, things are seemingly resolved. I feel better about handling the situation decisively, the children are no longer disturbing me from the other room, and all is well. But what about the children? What lessons have they learned about the way Dad views and administers justice?
The various reactions following the Zimmerman trial have included emotionally charged comments by the President, a stubborn refusal by the Department of Justice to accept the outcome, riots and protests in the streets, and a concerted effort to use the event for personal and political gain. The citizens have become a populace of victims who see injustice everywhere except in their own hearts. The authorities have become chessmasters who view individuals as pawns to be manipulated and maneuvered towards their own ends with justice defined and determined by themselves rather than the God to Whom they refuse to bow.