Soldiers and civilians

In September I posted a letter I wrote asking to be excused from jury duty for reasons of conscience. Some of you pushed so gently back on me, and I would like to explain my position further, listening more to you if you have more to say.

Please hear this with the love I feel. Christians have disagreed about this matter ever since the beginning. My position is a classic peace-people reluctance to “take up the sword.” But you are entitled to disagree, with your own classic ideas—or novel, as you wish! We won’t resolve the questions on this blog, but we can learn from each other, and seek Jesus together. I don’t have a leg up on holiness, and I welcome your thoughts.

Read previous post here.


How is justice brought about?

The line in my jury letter should have read “I cannot in good conscience stand in legal judgment of another human.” For me, the issue is not about a Christian being unable to judge fairly. I agree with Jenni—Christians judge best. Christians judge with authority. But who gives them their power?

Wouldn’t Christians also make the best soldiers? They would be honest, courageous, committed, and respectful. They would be morally upright and kind to civilians. Yet I see both kinds of participation as linked, jurors and soldiers—they rely on government action against evil.

Paul’s indignant Know ye not that we shall judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life? ridicules the idea that a Christian brother would take another Christian brother to law. You’ve been given the keys of heaven and hell, people. What earthly judge can compete with that? Wield the power you’ve been handed!

A position of “political noninvolvement” should never be an excuse for winking at sin within the church, or hiding our heads from sin without. That’s why I said not only “rescue” and “bind up” but also “chastise” and “tear down.”

My own opinion is that the Church’s sin in this matter has been failing to realize the authority SHE has been handed, a power that far supersedes any other, but operates with a completely different set of weapons.

She works for justice, yes. And mercy. And the kingdom marching forward. Sometimes her authority means the power to move in boldly, challenging and confronting evil. Sometimes it means the grace to wait in faith, suffering alongside my brother until the Lord steps in to make all wrongs right. So much of the time, it means both.

I suppose all evil comes ultimately from Satan, with a high cost in human life and happiness. But some is so blatant it makes our blood boil (occultism, abortion, child slavery). Some is so mixed, so human, so confusing, so lose-lose that it makes our hearts break (government policies, family disputes, and the knowledge that someone I love hurt someone I love).

Government power is deceptively effective. It half works, right? It has decreased crime, protected many innocents, worked toward economic equality… It has a place, and I respect that. But it never changes hearts. Never! Always it works from external pressure—things like handcuffs. Jail. Juries. Edicts. Bullets.

I’m not willing to operate on that plane. Agreeing “He deserves punishment” is different from saying “I must join in punishing him.” I’ve been handed power that works from the inside. Repentance. Faith. Mercy. Courage. Hope. Even reading over that list, I feel rising frustration at the “weakness” of the tools I’ve been handed. How can you change the world with that…? But it’s the way change will come, people.

Because I have sworn allegiance to another kingdom—not one in some future time and space, but one that infiltrates the present, in power NOW though always increasing, always looking over its shoulder for the reinforcements and the Grand Invasion—I prefer to work for peace (exclusively, you understand?) with its methods, its patience, its hope.

Justice is on its way!

How do you work to bring it about?

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11 years ago

So, we are never to punish? You said, “Agreeing “He deserves punishment” is different from saying “I must join in punishing him.”
I wish for some clarification on that point.

11 years ago

Well said! I’m going to be pondering what you said about the Church’s biggest sin–hadn’t thought of that, but I think I agree. 🙂
And I love the hope that rises when I read the final 2 paragraphs. Christ will triumph over all evil in the end!

11 years ago

I’m also unsure about the whole “jury duty” thing… however, I’m with Renee not sure I understand how jury duty strays far from “agreeing that he should be punished”.
I was raised to be opposed to jury duty; however, even as a young girl I pondered the thing of people who were opposed to jury duty hiring lawyers and heavily depending on said jury to prove them not guilty when they were falsely accused of a crime….??

Shari Zook
11 years ago

Thanks for the questions and thoughts, Renee and Peg. Remember I didn’t agree “He should be punished.” I agreed “He deserves punishment.”

The thing is, so do I.

Realizing how much I’ve been forgiven makes me slow to “deal out death in judgment.” Are selfishness and hatred lesser sins than theft and murder?

Punishment has a place. God does it, and we do too. You could say I punish my children, though I prefer to think of it as discipline that trains and rescues. My point is, I don’t think punishment should be our preferred way of dealing with the world’s sins. It wasn’t Jesus’ solution.

His punishment to all who are living is redemptive – mixed with ridiculous amounts of love, mercy, second chances, and stripes taken on His own back. I don’t see that happening in the judicial system.

More thoughts?

11 years ago
Reply to  Shari Zook

Hi Shari,
I agree that we all deserve punishment. Punishment is good for every soul. “The Lord chastens every son whom he loves.” We all need to be corrected sometimes – shown mercy by first being shown justice. Without justice, there is no mercy.
No sin is less or more in God’s eyes. All sin separates us from God. I do think some sins merit different forms of correction, however.

11 years ago

I really liked this post! One thing I learned early in my walk is that the government exists to govern those who refuse to be governed by God. Let the government deal with their own people. Christians belong to another Kingdom, and as such we can’t take part in this world’s governing affairs. You have said it all very well, Shari, thank you!

11 years ago

Thanks for tackling a ticklish subject. Well said!

When I read the news, I needed your reminder that we have greater weapons at our disposal. Praise the Lord.

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