Error in the Court Below
Background: Job 12:1-13 – 13:21
Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind? . . . With Him are strength and sound wisdom, the misled and the misleader belong to Him. He makes counselors walk barefoot, and makes fools of judges. Job 12:9-10, 16-17
Some years ago a recent law graduate, serving at the time as a clerk to a federal appellate judge, was returning home by air from an interview trip to a law firm headquartered in a city hundreds of miles away. The firm’s practice was sophisticated and the interviews seemed to have gone well, but he found himself at day’s end gazing out the window wondering whether he would fit in. it was nighttime, and he was struck by the lights on the earth below. Some were moving, others were still. But each light – houses, office buildings, cars, streetlights – represented individuals who like himself had plans and expectations and who lived as thought the world revolved around themselves.
And then, he saw how small they were! Those car owners who drive so fast, those architects whose buildings look so high, those businessmen whose millions seem to buy so much – and those lawyers whose courtroom abilities leave others so speechless – from his present vantage point, they all seemed of such little account. The powerful egos of the wealthy and the celebrated – and everyone else—seemed so utterly impotent. They were smaller than grasshoppers (Num. 13:33).
How often must we be brought up short to realize how little we know, how poorly we see, how tiny we are? Our God is so, so big. His mysteries are unfathomably unfathomable. And we cannot imagine how unimaginable is His praiseworthiness. The disconcerting declarations of Ecclesiastes that all is vanity make sense when man’s efforts are assessed in light of who God is. Isaiah’s assertion that all flesh is like grass is an understatement of the way things are in light of the control that God exercises. After all, God does indeed have the “whole world in His hands.”
What sense does it make for me to trust in myself? Or princes? Or their institutions? Or even their laws? Nobles die in car wrecks and judges misread constitutions, and there, but for the grace of God, go I (I Cor. 15:10). Just as the Lord directs the hearts of kings like rivers of water (Prov. 21:1), I am not my own (I Cor. 6:19). None of us is.
Accordingly, my priorities must be grounded in the One who is eternal and sovereign, the One who does not change. My work, as well-intentioned as the ends may be, must not be the ultimate standard by which I arrive at priorities or make judgments. There is Something, Someone, greater than legislatures, better at truth-telling than the adversarial system, and more just than courts of law. To have as my loftiest life objective the establishment or preservation of an institution, or even a nation, is to usurp – or more accurately, to pretend to usurp – the place of God. He is the Giver of the perfect Law, the Advocate without guile, the only Judge without bias. I am to have no mistress in the law, jealous or otherwise. It is only as I acknowledge my complete dependence on the only One capable of containing sin and sowing righteousness that my efforts have meaning.
And in that self-abandonment lies the freedom for which all men yearn. Jesus said that he who would save his life must lose it, that the Truth shall set us free. I want freedom – freedom to rejoice, freedom to love and be vulnerable, freedom from fear of failure and death. No one has discovered such freedom in the meager, fleeting efforts of himself. It lies in the One who is eternal, in the One who has created us. What freedom, what comforts, what joy, to declare now and to whisper with my dying breath, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).
Alan Button, Professor of Law at Campbell University
Suggested Additional Readings: Psalm 100; Ecclesiastes 1; Isaiah 40; Romans 8:28-39
A. Button, Week 4: Error in the Court Below, in WHAT DOES THE LORD REQUIRE OF YOU? 14-15 (L. Buzzard ed.1997).
Used with permission of the publisher, Advocates International.