What happened on the night of Feb. 26, 2012, at the Retreat at Twin Lakes Community in Sanford, Florida? This week a Florida jury began to hear starkly differing accounts of the events that led to the death of teenager Trayvon Martin at the hands of 29-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
Everyone claims they want justice. Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, was quoted as saying, “I’m here today as Trayvon Martin’s mom as I have been every day. I will be attending every day to get justice for my son. I ask that you pray for me and my family because I don’t want any other mother to have to experience what I am going through now.” Meanwhile Zimmerman’s attorney, Don West, asserted his client’s innocence. “He shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense after being viciously attacked,” he declared, and he then went on to tell the jurors that there are “no monsters” in this case.
With all the publicity and racial overtones the case has garnered, we may expect some emotional moments in the courtroom. And with the polarization of opinion and many commentators having jumped to quick conclusions, it will be hard for the jury to render a just verdict. We don’t envy them their task.
But what are the facts? When there are claims and counterclaims of injustice, it’s often hard to stick to the facts and to say, “I don’t know enough to render a verdict,” or, “It’s best to reserve judgment.” After all, rendering judgment will be the purpose of the trial.
Someone once said that in this country—the United States—we have a legal system, not a justice system. All too often financial resources determine the quality of the legal representation a person gets in court. A wealthy person may blow millions of dollars in defense costs, while the poor person is forced to work with a court-appointed attorney who may have little or no time for the low-paying case. Sadly, it happens.
But what of this controversial case? Will it end in justice? We hope so. Yet this and all matters of jurisprudence would really benefit from some of the greatest pieces of legal wisdom ever proffered, those to be found in the law of God.
“You shall not show partiality to a poor man in his dispute” is one of the wonderful nuggets of justice God Himself gave via Moses (Exodus 23:3). It’s possible, from a misguided desire to see the poor or the deprived get a fair deal, to tilt one’s judgment in favor of that person. But let’s keep reading; just three verses later the Bible says, “You shall not pervert the judgment of your poor in his dispute” (verse 6). Don’t skew your judgment either way—in favor of or against the poor.
The Bible takes us further than this. It provides another wonderfully sound principle of justice: “You shall show no partiality in judgment. You shall hear the small as well as the great. You shall not be afraid in any man’s presence, for the judgment is God’s” (Deuteronomy 1:17). Elsewhere we read, with even greater emphasis, that “there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11). Almighty God, in His judgment, never practices prejudice of any kind, be it racial or economic. He doesn’t render judgment to gain favor. He is perfectly just, and He commands that judgment not be based on popular pressure: “You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice” (Exodus 23:2).
As a measure of protection, the law of God required that conviction was never to be based on the testimony of just one witness. “One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established” (Deuteronomy 19:15). This law protected the accused against false accusation. It also served to disbar hearsay; those bringing the testimony had to be witnesses, never persons who had simply heard that something was said or done.
It would be beyond the scope of this brief commentary to review all the wonderful principles of law and justice enunciated in the Bible. Yet we can say that the strict application of these principles to this very controversial case would go a long way to assuring a just outcome, just as they would to all legal disputes among flawed humans who struggle for true justice.
We don’t pretend to know the truth of the claims and counterclaims in the homicide trial of George Zimmerman. We simply hope and pray for the right decision to be rendered.
What we can say for sure is that there will soon come a time when One will bring real justice to the affairs of humanity. So incisive will this Great Judge be that He won’t even need to hear testimony and cross-examination. Notice: “His delight is in the fear of the LORD, and He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears; but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked” (Isaiah 11:3-4).
We pray for justice to be rendered in Sanford, Florida. And we also pray for that time when the Great Judge will abolish injustice and bring real equity to the earth.
For Life, Hope & Truth, I’m Ralph Levy.