Observations on Jury Duty August 05 2017

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

Aside from being in the military, one of the great civic services we have in the U.S. is  serving on a jury.  Many of us have served on juries before, and the vast majority would say that, while it can be an inconvenience and interruption in the flow of daily life, it is also where we come to appreciate our legal system a little more, imperfect though it may be.  Typically, 12 individuals representing a broad cross-section of society are selected to attempt to discern the truth about various events and to render a verdict that represents justice for the people involved in the situation. 

It was my opportunity, and privilege, to participate in that process once again this week.  As explained in the informational videos, a trial consists essentially of three parts: jury selection, the trial, and jury deliberation. This time through I got only so far as jury selection, but to me, that is perhaps the most interesting part. 

I find jury selection interesting because you hear a lot of stories about family and personal situations that you wouldn’t ordinarily hear. This occurs when the judge and the attorneys begin asking questions about jurors’ suitability for serving on a particular trial.  For example, one of the first questions asked is whether any jurors think they should be dismissed due to hardship (which could be financial, travel, or caring for children or disabled, etc). Of the 85 original jurors in the pool, perhaps 20 were dismissed for hardship, mainly those who had their own small businesses or would not get paid while in jury service and could not afford to lose that income.  There were several travel hardships, the most interesting of which was a scheduled honeymoon trip, for which the husband said “my wife would kill me.” Immediate dismissal on that one, no other questions asked.

What was most interesting, though, was when the 18 potential jurors initially drawn from the pool had to answer a list of questions, one of which was something like “have you or your family ever been victims of a crime?”  The idea of the question was whether the juror would have any biases against either the defense or the prosecution because of that experience.  The case involved an alleged incident of domestic violence.

I would say that perhaps half of the 18 prospective jurors indicated that either family or close friends had been victims of a crime. There were two murders, several domestic abuse situations, one drug-related incident, and several home burglaries, one of which involved the threat of violence. There was nothing unusual about this group of 18 prospective jurors. They seemed to be, by all appearances, a typical cross-section of humanity.  Most said they would be able to overlook what had happened to them or to their family and friends and render an impartial, fact-based verdict.  Only three jurors were dismissed, and the necessary 12 were seated faster than any jury selection I have ever seen.

So why is this relevant to a blog focused on the Scriptures?  What occurred to me as I was listening to these life stories is that significant trials are common to all humanity, believers and unbelievers alike.  Perhaps some of these individuals were Christians and some not.  In Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount, the Father “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). Jesus is saying that the Father doesn't only bless the righteous, and give trials for the wicked. He allows blessing and trial for both.  We know from various characters in the Bible  that serious problems, trials, and temptations occur to believers and unbelievers alike.  Or in the words of I Corinthians 10:13, they are “common to man.”  However, someone who is walking with Jesus has a huge advantage: being able to see this trial, test, or temptation as an opportunity to mature in their faith, as difficult and unpleasant as it may be at the time. 

We may not know why a trial is happening in our lives at any particular time. It may be happening just because it is generally part of the way God matures us, as in James 1:2-4: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  It is important to remember here that “joy” is not the same as “enjoy.”  God is not saying to enjoy the trial in the sense of “oh isn’t this fun!”  Rather, we can have joy in the trial, knowing how it will mature our walk with the Lord after we have been through it and even as we go through it.  It is like the rigorous and sometimes brutal training an athlete or soldier will go through, so as to be more prepared for competition or battle.  It was said of Jesus “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame…” (Hebrews 12:2).  In other words, He did not enjoy the cross but had joy in knowing that He was accomplishing God’s purpose for His life on earth.

A trial may also be happening as an opportunity to demonstrate our faith. Peter, in his first book, starts out by reminding believers scattered throughout Asia Minor (generally today’s Turkey) of all the benefits of having a relationship with Jesus Christ “who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (I Peter 1:3-4). Then immediately following the description of this amazing inheritance, he reminds us that even painful trials on earth have a purpose in our lives: “In this (our salvation) you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials. So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (I Peter 1:6-7). 

Or a trial may be happening because we needed loving discipline such as in Hebrews 12:10-11 “For they (earthly fathers) disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He (the Lord) disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.  All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful, yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”  I love how the result is described as “peaceful fruit.” 

Yet in all these passages, trials are described as being a beneficial and natural part of our spiritual lives.  It is often hard to appreciate that when we are in the middle of a big one.  Yet being reminded of God’s loving purpose for us as believers can give us great hope, and yes, even joy when we realize that it is part of God’s work in our lives. This is hope that the world cannot possibly offer.  The stories of trials and tragedies that briefly came out of my time in jury duty have made me even more grateful to God for this important life principle in His Word.

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    Steve Smith