God on Trial
Over a period of several weeks of precious elementary school recesses, a circle of fellow fourth-grade friends set aside dodge-ball matches and swing-sets in order to go to court. There had been a rather serious disagreement between two of the girls in our larger group of friends and sides were being drawn as quickly as notes could be passed between girls' desks. Before things got any worse, the humanitarian among us reasoned that we had to intervene. It was decided that we would create a makeshift courtroom to get to the bottom of the mess. One of my friends was appointed judge; others were chosen to be witnesses or note-takers, prosecutor or defendant. We even had a bailiff. In our minds we were doing what adults did to get at the truth. In the end, it became one of those defining moments where one wakes from the innocence of childhood to find the world not as simple as first thought and the human heart capable of horrific things. The experience is strangely reminiscent of William Golding's stranded children in The Lord of the Flies.
In our courtroom I was called to be a witness. I was to tell the judge what I saw and what I knew to be true. I did so, and it felt like we were getting somewhere. But then another witness was called who insisted that she saw something completely different, and that I, in fact, was lying. I was both heartbroken and confused. Sides were quickly drawn, cases sharpened. As the days went by we became increasingly frustrated and vindictive. What we thought would be a simple solution that would lead us to truth and resolution became a hurtful, tangled mess of motive and slander and manipulation—so much so, that teachers finally intervened and our courtroom was forever adjourned. Among other things, I decided I would never go into law.
I was reminded of this childish scene recently while reading the eyewitness Mark's account of the trial of Christ before the council of religious leaders. Seized from the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was taken to the courtyard. Peter followed from a distance and watched among the guards as the trial unraveled. Mark imparts that "The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: We heard him say, 'I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.' Yet even then their testimony did not agree."(1)
What kind of a courtroom would this make? The expert witnesses from the same side are contradicting each other. The only thing they seem to agree on is that Jesus should be on trial. And yet, like a prosecuting attorney with an airtight case, the high priest exclaims: "Answer these charges!" though which charges remains unclear. In the middle of the chaos of conflicting words and motives, the high priest stood up and faced Jesus: "Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?" Jesus was kind for not replying: "If you don't even know, why should I have to make sense of all of that?" But Jesus remained silent and made no answer.
In the midst of courtrooms such as these, it seems appropriate to pause in that silence. For though accusing crowds put him to death more than two thousand years ago, he has been on trial ever since. Like the court scene I was a part of as a child, we continue to place him before our makeshift gavels and make a mockery of truth and testimony. I know many moments when armed with fiery questions I have forced God to take the stand, presenting my case as if it were airtight. My words have likely made as little sense as Jesus's accusers that day.
But the culminating events of Jesus's life on earth depict a very surprising turn of judge and jury. From the waving of palm branches to waving fists demanding crucifixion, human trials of God are often fickle. But what if we discover, as did many within these crowds, that we are engaging an imagined court? Like Peter, we might follow Jesus at a distance, looking in on a great trial, sometimes participating, sometimes denying him, sometimes seeing our role and with a shock of recognition, falling on our knees. If we find ourselves in a court, it is a court altogether reversed: our advocate, the one we have accused, plays the role of mediator. He enters our plea.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Mark 14:55-59.