Monday, July 15, 2013

The Zimmerman Trial and the Nature of Justice


On Saturday night, a jury acquitted George Zimmerman of all charges against him related to the death of Trayvon Martin. Immediately following the verdict—as was expected—commentators, pundits, and activists took to the tweets in protest. Some people praised the verdict as Zimmerman’s vindication against a liberal-media-run circus. Others labeled the verdict as nothing more than a “modern day lynching.” Few, however, respected the verdict as just, precisely because it was a verdict rendered within a just system.
Too often we lament the failures of the justice system when it reaches decisions that we do not agree with. I think we do this because we have a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of a societal justice system. More than that, we have a fundamental mistrust (or, unbelief) in the justice of a good and sovereign God. And underlying both of these misconceptions is a dark desire to protect our self-idolatry from attack.
From its inception the jury trial has never been about justice for the victim. It is always about justice for the accused. So when Nancy Grace wonders if we will get “Justice for Caylee,” she’s got it all wrong. If the trial were about justice for the victim, we would demand a conviction in every trial. But we don’t—because the justice system seeks to impose justice on the accused. Thus, if the accused is innocent, justice demands they be set free. If the accused is guilty, justice demands a punishment. This concept is crucial if we are to understand justice correctly. It’s the system that provides justice for the accused, not a decision providing justice for the victim.
If we operate on the assumption that the system itself is designed to render justice, then a decision reached by a jury in a fair trial isnecessarily a just decision. If we don’t trust the justice system, then, well, why are we wasting money on it? Let’s just go with our gut every time and hope for the best.
So don’t be carried away by people who say that there’s no justice for Trayvon; that’s not what the trial was about. Trayvon is dead—tragically, for sure—but a conviction of George Zimmerman would not have brought him justice. That is why, in order to keep sane, we must trust in the justice and goodness of a sovereign God who will deliver justice in the end.
If you do not believe in the goodness and sovereignty of God, a jury trial will always frustrate your sense of justice, because there’s always a chance the accused will be acquitted. A trial becomes your last chance for justice—for both parties. But for those who trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God, we can be satisfied with a trial’s result because the accused got a fair shake and we know that the victim will ultimately see justice done—as we all will.
The attitudes we see in social media, however, bely our true hearts. We act like we care about justice, but what we really care about is our side, our agenda. And if our side doesn’t win, it’s a miscarriage of justice. If we really cared about justice, we would show deference to a system carefully designed to pursue justice. Now, we should be sad about the tragic cirucmstances surrounding Trayvon Martin’s death—I am not suggesting otherwise. His death was tragic, without a doubt. But what I want to challenge is the rhetoric that the trial’s result necessarily implies injustice or some sort of conspiracy. I think such talk betrays true justice.
Caring about justice—in its true sense—requires us to submit to an authority higher than ourself. It requires us to admit that we do not know everything and defer our judgment to a system designed to discover the truth and render judgment accordingly. This necessarily requires submission and humility—not characteristics that are highly valued in our self-autonomous society. So when a decision doesn’t go the way we think is right, our own sovereignty comes under attack. And to those who worship at the altar of self, this arrangement will not do. We will do whatever it takes to maintain the sovereignty of our agenda. That’s why we see such an outcry in high-profile murder cases, regardless of verdict. Someone wins and someone loses. And the justice system always gets disrespected.
The Bible, however, calls us to love justice, not an agenda.
So for those who call this trial a “modern day lynching,” I hesitate to think that the outrage stems from a close relationship to Trayvon and his family. The more likely scenario is that this result hurts the progress of their agenda—whatever that may be. Or the outrage is justified because the outrage itself promotes the progress of their agenda. Whichever it is, justice is not the concern—the agenda is. Andthat is an injustice.
The only person who really knows what happened that tragic night is George Zimmerman. No one else knows. So how can we confidently say that his trial was a miscarriage of justice? We can’t. We operate within a system that was designed to render a just result, and we have to trust it. And we can only trust the system if we have a right view of justice and a right view of a just God.

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