Objectionable Testimony

 
 A 1903 caricature of  Robert McCall KC  (formerly QC)

A 1903 caricature of Robert McCall KC (formerly QC)

[N]o one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.  With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing.  My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. James 3:8-10

Those of us who as kids had our mouths washed out with soap as punishment for speaking words our parents found unacceptable need little convincing that our tongues wag in two worlds.  And who does not remember the impact when he first heard the playground rejoinder, “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”

But lawyers are wordsmiths.  Their stock in trade is using words to control or persuade or repair.  And all too often their tendency is to seek security in what they say or write or others do, like Martha when she busied herself in her own agenda while in the presence of the Agenda, or like Abraham whose impatience bore Ishmael, looking to themselves for satisfaction.

Lawyers are also rationalizers, the consummate analysts, too often the actor.  Like those who passed by the robbers’ victim on the road to Jericho, they make ever finer distinctions, even adopting schizophrenia as a professional mandate.  Who but a lawyer would say that he is a different person on the job and cannot be held accountable off the job when what he says on behalf of clients is found to be untrue, illogical or misguided?  How could I think that I can with God’s approval serve as nothing more than a mouthpiece for my clients, and thus avoid moral responsibility for the outcomes of my cases? Doesn’t God view everything we say as testimony to prove the truth of the matter asserted?  And my guess is that when we get to heaven such testimony will be admissible without resort to hearsay exceptions.

There is a tendency on the part of lawyers, too, to become hardened to the plights of others.  Compassion gets in the way of rational analysis and, like Jonah in Nineveh, lawyers step without much effort from the analytical to the judgmental to the unloving and, worst of all, to the unsubmitting.

How then should I practice law?  If God makes no distinction between my professional life and my “real” life, neither should I.  All of it is my life, and He is Lord over all. We who are involved in the law — whether police officers or paralegals or judges or professors or lawyers — are not people of the law who “happen” to be Christians.  Our status as believers makes us children of the King of the universe and joint heirs with Christ, members of a royal priesthood. All that we otherwise are, whatever that may be, flows out of that relationship. Nor are we Christians who “happen” to be people of the law.  The Lordship of Christ and the sovereignty of God in all matters eliminate from the vocabulary of Christians the word “coincidental.” It is no accident, no mere happenstance, that we are both Christians and people connected with the things of law and justice.

Necessarily, of course, that proposition — that what I am, I am because of God — removes any grounds for self exaltation.  It makes me a facilitator, a channel of God’s Spirit. And, ironically, lawyers, whether Christian or not, are paid to facilitate.  They resolve other people’s disputes, speak on behalf of others, and close others’ deals. Therefore, as one chosen by God, and consistent with my chosen profession as a facilitator, I am to put others first (Phil. 2:3-4).

At the end of the day, it is not a question of integrating my faith with the practice of law, but rather what my practice says about the depth and breadth of my faith.  I should be living and practicing in accordance with the eternal priorities that distinguish God’s people. If, as Isaiah wrote, we are a people of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5), we who make our livings by speaking and writing must be especially watchful.  We need to assume that when we die a tape recorder will replay our every word in heaven. We must also remember that the mouth evidences that which fills the heart (Matt. 12:34).

It is likewise important that I recognize the temptation to jealousy and selfish ambition (James 3:16) that is so prevalent in the legal profession, and that I resist the temptation to take myself too seriously.  Life is to be lived lightly, joyfully, with a wonder-filled self-deprecating acknowledgement of the mystery of God’s eternal workings and the sufficiency of His grace. After all, it is His law that is perfect, restoring the soul; His testimony that is sure, making wise the simple; His precepts that are right, rejoicing the heart (Ps. 19:7-8a).  They are more desirable than words from tongues of gold and sweeter than songs from lips of honey (Ps. 19:10).

By Alan Button

A. Button, Week 6: Objectionable Testimony, in WHAT DOES THE LORD REQUIRE OF YOU? 18-19 (L. Buzzard ed.1997).

Used with permission of the publisher, Advocates International.