After jury duty

I spent the first two days of this week serving our community in the juror’s box.

On Monday I was part of the selection process for two different juries before eventually being seated as a member of the second jury.  I’ve been called for jury duty before but never had the privilege of sitting on a jury, so the process was new and very satisfying to my curiosity streak.

And as a result I have been thinking about Romans 13 today in a new way.

During voir dire for the first case, both the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney spent considerable time asking potential jurors what the primary reasons for punishment in a case were:

  1. Rehabilitation
  2. Retribution
  3. Deterrent (both societal and individual)
  4. Removal (of the offender).

“It’s interesting that they’re spending so much time on this,” I thought.

When we got to the punishment phase of our case, I understood why.  I had always read Romans 13:3-4 as explanation of what civil authorities (e.g., policemen, judges, and the executive branch of our government) were to do to lawbreakers.  Once we got into the jury room, it became clear that the instruction in Romans was at that moment for us.  Our jury was tasked with upholding righteousness and punishing a particular evildoer.  We had to administer justice in making a decision about guilt or non-guilt and then decide on punishment commensurate to his evil.

But concern about justice and punishment was not the dominant thinking in the room.  Two thoughts ruled the moment:

  • “He doesn’t need to go to jail, he needs to be rehabilitated.”
  • “If we put him in jail for ____ years, his life will be ruined…”

It was then that I reminded them that our task was to uphold the law.  Having decided his guilt, our primary concern needed to be about determining what was an appropriate consequence to his sin.  Yes, rehabilitation would be good, but that was not our task or concern in that moment.  Nor were we to concern ourselves primarily with the impact on his life.  Our task was to uphold justice and good and punish his wrongdoing.

As the DA had reminded us shortly before sending us to the deliberation room, we now could no longer blame courts and the “system” for inadequate justice, for now we, in this case, were the system.  He was simply stating Romans 13 in another way — we had been placed by God in this circumstance to protect those who were good and punish those who were evil.

On Monday morning I went to the courthouse looking forward to a lesson in civics; yesterday evening I returned much more grateful for the lesson in theology that I received.

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