Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Jury Duty and the faith

The French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre wrote a play entitled “No Exit” in which he depicted the hopelessness and despair of humanity as he saw it. Garcin, the main character, is ushered into a room where there are no windows, only one door and it is locked, no windows and grim stark walls – no windows, no decorations, nothing of beauty. The reader soon realizes that this “Hotel room” is actually hell. Garcin is joined by three others in this room where they expect they will be punished for their past sins. However, no torturer arrives and the only torture is that which the room’s occupants inflict on each other as they point out the others’ sins and misdeeds. At the end of the play, the door finally opens but Garcin and the others choose to stay.
Why do I bring up such a serious, depressing thought, you ask? I do so because for the last three days, I sat in a similar room with about three hundred others. This room, like Sartre’s Hell, had no windows and only one door which could only be exited at certain times. Some of you may have had the experience of sitting in that same room. It was the Jury Assembly Room at the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle. After 40+ years of voting, adult maturity, this was the first time I had ever been summoned for jury duty. What an experience this was.
If you have ever served in this capacity, you know about the interminable waits, the crowded conditions, the terrible coffee, and the very diverse group of human beings that gather there. Each person has been randomly selected from records at the DMV or from voting registration lists. No one I talked to wanted to be there but they were doing their civic duty. And so we waited…and waited….and waited.
The one redeeming factor – and one that Sartre could never have envisioned in his despairing play about hell and judgment – was that we had a strong Wi-Fi signal so I could stay in touch with my office, with friends, and with others via email and Face Book. I was also able to get some planning and preparation done for an upcoming leadership retreat for our church’s elders. So it was not all bad. But the waiting, oh the waiting. For someone who admittedly is attention deficit disordered, there were times when the place and the waiting conjured up images of hell.
Having said all that, as I sat waiting and wondering if I would actually be called to serve in judgment on another person, I was reminded of a key bit of Gospel grace: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved.”
That, my friends is good news. God, the supreme judge is not willing that any should perish under the rigorous demands of God’s own holy and just nature. Instead, God is abounding in steadfast love and full of mercy. God does not treat us as our sins deserve but instead forgives the sins of the contrite who have put their faith in Jesus Christ, and restores the broken to a right relationship with God’s self.
There is no one else who can judge us because all humanity has fallen under the brokenness of selfish rebellion against God, and therefore has no right to condemn. Only God does, and God declares those that come to him through Christ, as not guilty; forgiven.
Back to my court experience. After two full days of waiting, I was given a number and assigned to a criminal trial. We were told to come back Wednesday morning to be interviewed by both attorneys so that a jury of 15 could be seated (12 regulars and 3 alternates). So, for a third day, I travelled downtown and entered “hell” one more time. This time, though, I was sure we would at least be moved to a courtroom for jury selection. But no, we sat and waited some more. Finally, at the end of the morning, just when I was beginning to despair that I would ever exit this room with no windows, mirrors or doors, the announcement came over the intercom: “All prospective jurors in Judge so-and-so’s trial are dismissed. A plea bargain has been agreed upon.”
Jubilant that I no longer faced the specter of waiting – or worse – sitting in on a trial that could last several days or even weeks, I practically skipped out of the courthouse. Then, as I rode a crowded Metro – Transit bus back to Federal Way, stopping at no less than 45 stops – I did another reflecting exercise, realizing that in my case, a guilty sinner, a plea bargain had also been arranged. Though guilty of sinful, willful rebellion against God, a different sentence was handed out. The very one I had offended, God incarnate, had taken my place and born my guilt as he hung on the instrument of capital punishment of his day – the cross.
I may have to wait in a crowded jury room, airline terminal, or Department of Motor Vehicles line again in my lifetime. But thanks be to God, I need not fear God’s judgment not the room that has no windows or doors. Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life, has redeemed me and released me and provided a door – not just an exit from the trials of hell or for that matter life on earth, but a door toward renewed, full fellowship between me and the loving God who created me.
Unfortunately, many like Garcin in “No Exit,” choose to stay in the barren room of condemnation and wait. How about you? Jesus is the door. You can exit from a life of despair and futility into a new life of freedom and hope.

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