Lessons Learned in the Practice of Law: God is a Perfect Judge
[Editor’s Note: The following article was written by A.P. auxiliary staff writer, Kevin Cain, who holds degrees from Freed-Hardeman University (B.S., M.Min.) and the Doctor of Jurisprudence from South Texas College of Law. A former Briefing Attorney of The First Court of Appeals, his current practice focuses on litigation at the trial and appellate levels in both State and Federal Courts.]
I am an attorney. I make a living studying the law, applying the law, and helping my clients navigate the murky waters of the legal profession. Over the years practicing as an attorney, I have come across cases, legal maxims, rules of law, statutes, and experiences that remind me of subtle lessons that God has long ago passed on to us through His holy Word. It simply reminds me of the great wisdom and superiority of God and His ways. One of these lessons was impressed upon me at a recent hearing.
I do not practice criminal law, but many trial courts have a combined civil and criminal docket—meaning they try both civil and criminal cases. Therefore, when I show up at the courthouse for a hearing on a civil case, I often sit and listen to people in orange jumpsuits plead guilty and beg for the judge’s mercy while I wait for my hearing to be called. Usually the assistant district attorney (ADA) and the defense attorney have reached a deal before the defendant pleads guilty. However, this agreement merely results in a recommendation from the ADA to the judge for purposes of sentencing the defendant. The judge may or may not accept this recommendation. The judge may give the defendant deferred adjudication or probation, or he may sentence the defendant to jail time. Rarely does the judge pass a sentence that is harsher than the sentence recommended by the ADA—rare, but not impossible.
I recently sat in a courthouse and listened to an attorney and the defendant’s mother plead for leniency and mercy on behalf of the defendant, who had just plead guilty to arson. The defense attorney begged for probation, while the ADA recommended 10 years in prison. The judge sentenced the 22-year-old man, with his one year-old daughter in the court room, to 15 years in prison. The defendant wept silently, and his mother wept bitterly as her son was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs to begin his 15 years in prison. I do not envy the judges who have to make life-changing decisions like this.
In this lifetime, on this side of eternity, we will never know perfect judgment, where justice and mercy are perfectly blended together resulting in judgment that is perfectly fair. Judges are faced with pleas for mercy, tears of sympathy, and cries for justice. What is a judge to do? Each judge must ask, “Is this defendant truly sorry and changed, or is he simply regretting that he got caught and sorry he is facing judgment?” While we often hear of judges who appear to have exercised poor judgment in their sentencing, and presume that we could do better, this is not a job I want day in and day out. As a judge stares down his gavel at a defendant pleading for his life, how is a judge to know if that person is truly sorry, sincere, or is simply putting on a show?
The true God we read of in the Bible is a perfect judge. He knows the hearts and minds of men. Our God searches the hearts of men—that is, he knows our every thought (Romans 8:27). God tries our hearts and our minds (Psalm 7:9). “The Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought” (1 Chronicles 28:9). God can look past the external distractions that so often mislead, and He looks directly into our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7). Because of God’s ability to know our thoughts, our motives, and the intents of our hearts, He is a perfect judge who will exact perfect judgment. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). “And He shall judge the world in righteousness, He shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness” (Psalm 9:8). Our God will judge us all with precision, bringing together mercy and wrath perfectly. “But with righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and He shall smite the earth: with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked” (Isaiah 11:4). In other words when God judges this world, separating the saved from the lost, we will still be able to say, “He has done all things well” (Mark 7:37). When we pray for forgiveness, only God knows if we are truly sincere, sorry, and changed. God is a perfect judge.
A person can stand before a judge and fool him into leniency based on a purely external show of feigned sorrow. Another person may incur the judge’s wrath even though he is truly heart-broken and penitent. Nevertheless, our God looks beyond the external tears, confessions, pleas, and apologies; and He knows those who truly have torn hearts and those who merely demonstrate an external, superficial show of sorrow (Joel 2:13). “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7). God is a perfect judge.
Our biases and inconsistencies on this subject are obvious and apparent. When we hear of some person (whom we have never met) who has committed some atrocious crime, we immediately think, “I hope he is punished to the fullest extent of the law, and even beyond that if possible.” However, when it is me or someone I personally know who is facing criminal prosecution, we immediately pray and beg for mercy and understanding from the judge, because we truly are sorry. So, where is the balance, and what is the answer?
In the United States, we have a legal system that is literally second to none. Many people risk their lives every day around this world defending this nation and our liberties and rights. Among those rights, according to the U.S. Constitution, is the right to a trial by jury. People are dying every day in an effort to enter this country of ours to have access to our legal system that is driven and founded on concepts of liberty, justice, and equity. We have a judicial system where disagreements are settled in a civil manner in the court house, not in the streets at the hands of an angry mob. However, our legal system is far from perfect and has more problems and flaws than most attorneys, judges, and jurists would care to admit. We will never know perfect judgment in this lifetime. And thankfully, I am not called to judge every person to determine where they will spend eternity, much less attempt to exact some form of temporary justice for every wrong that is committed today. Rather, God wants me to present every person with God’s Word (Matthew 28:19-20)—the very text, law, and code that will be the guide by which everyone will someday be judged (Revelation 20:12). God wants me to stand in the gap and warn the world of the righteous judgment to come (Ezekiel 3:17-19; 22:30). God will take care of the judging. My role is not to ensure perfect judgment in my time, but to prepare for perfect judgment in God’s time. God is a perfect judge.