Edited By: Leslyn Kim
As I’ve been thinking about this whole case for the past few weeks, there’s been something about it beyond just simple intrigue or human nosiness that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Over the last few days as I’ve watched the 24-hr CNN news cycle, and discussed the case with several different people, a few common themes emerged. As a result, I think it became clear to me why I’m not alone in feeling morally perturbed by this particular case. I’m normally not one to follow national spotlight court cases like these (Casey Anthony, O.J. Simpson, and so on), and I get the sense that so many other people observing aren’t either. So what is it in particular about this case that seems to be morally disturbing, especially (and maybe even more so) for Christians like myself?
I came to the conclusion that this one is unique because there is a dichotomy at play between biblical justice and civil justice. Sure, this is nothing new. The world has their version of justice, often one extreme or the other. Spanning the spectrum from an eye-for-an-eye to a live-and-let-live mentality. But where does the story of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin land when civil justice is held up against the standard of biblical justice.
Please don’t be surprised if this seems oversimplified. My goal is to get myself and others to think more along these lines in all aspects of life. That is, to look at all things with a“Christian worldview”, both when it’s convenient and not-so-convenient.
If we’re honest, we all struggle with some form of identity crises. This is the pointwhere our ethnicity, culture, way of life, social-class, and so many other factors, blur our so-called pristine “Christian Worldview”. Because we are the church body, inherently the church often suffers from the same identity crises. Hence, the lack of Christians writing about social issues like the Zimmerman/Martin trial is indication for the often unspoken social ills that affect/infect our culture. In the Zimmer/Martin trial, the broader theme that’s even larger than race, is our propensity to judge without just cause. We all too often stake flags in stereotypes, prejudices, and so many other layers of what often amounts to self-concocted falsehoods. They pollute the waters so badly that we can no longer see real people. Zimmerman, I believe was guilty of this sin/crime. Although he may have sub-consciously identified Martin with recent criminal activity in his own neighborhood, the real initial sin of omission was that he judged Martin. Before any crime, argument or confrontation took place, what we know to be fact was that Zimmerman falsely identified Martin as a criminal. “These —— punks always get away”. He had no “ground to stand on”, when he slandered Martin to the 911 operator. In his mind, he had already vilified and identified Martin, based simply on how he looked. A young man was guilty by association. By association with what could be associated with thug-culture. I don’t know exactly what Martin was wearing that night, but I know that he sported an oversized (large) hoody. News journalists like Geraldo Rivera made comments about Martin’s hoody, but in a typical worldly, cold and insensitive fashion, his terse conclusion in the matter was.. “hoodies can get your kids killed”. In all fairness Geraldo later explained that his point was not to blame the hoody, but to point out how identification, unfortunately with the wrong crowd has unfortunate consequences at times. While I understand his sentiment and can identify with the unfortunate consequence, it’s a far cry from justice.
For all we know, that night Martin very well may have thrown the first punch at George Zimmerman. And this evidence between the time of Zimmerman seeking out Trayvon, by his own admission and the final gun blast that killed Martin is a mystery. The evidence of witnesses, if you’ve followed the case, is sparse, unremarkable and inconclusive. However, because of the times that we live in I wouldn’t be shocked at all, if Martin either struck the first blow or initiated some form of first contact. Especially if he felt threatened by the mysterious presence of an unknown grown man following him. This is, essentially what makes the case so difficult. Was Zimmerman acting in self-defense or did he overreact, not only in the initial pursuit of Martin, but in the use of excessive force, death by close-range gunshot, on a teenager? Civil justice according to Florida law (circa 2005) allows for citizens to “Stand Your Ground” in self-defense. Stand Your Ground author, former Sen. Durell Peaden, and co-sponsor, Rep. Dennis Baxley, stated the following in rebuttal and disagreement to Zimmerman’s use of the controversial law in his defense of pursuing potential criminals during neighborhood watch… The intention was not for people to feel “like they have the authority to pursue and confront people. That is aggravating an incident right there.” In summary, civil justice informs us (especially in recent laws passed like Stand Your Ground) that men have the right to defend themselves from threats, harm or danger, in most circumstances, if they feel physically threatened. And at first listen, gut reaction that sounds right, but is that theologically sound and biblical? The broader scope of what I wish to confront however is God’s possible view of justice vs man’s. Because this is what I believe lies at the heart of many people’s frustration….
A Case for Biblical Justice:
Before I get into this, my disclaimer is that I’m not using this as any absolute defense for one side or the other. However, I am attempting to show that our secular worldview often clouds our view of the character of God, and more often perhaps what he views as real justice. I found a particular verse from the Old Testament Mosaic Law that caught my attention. It’s not shocking, nor is it in any form a direct parallel to the Zimmerman/Martin trial. But, when held up against a standard American civil rights/ 2nd amendment/private property worldview it should make us pause and reflect:
Exodus 22 (focus on verse 2)
New International Version (NIV)
Protection of Property
1“Whoever steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.
2 “If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; 3 but if it happens after sunrise, the defender is guilty of bloodshed.
“Anyone who steals must certainly make restitution, but if they have nothing, they must be sold to pay for their theft. 4 If the stolen animal is found alive in their possession—whether ox or donkey or sheep—they must pay back double.
Hmmm….. See anything that strikes our Americanized sentiments as odd? People have the right to defend themselves in their homes from those attempting to break in and steal. BUT, the property owner is guilty of bloodshed if they strike someone with a fatal blow, even if they’re breaking in to steal during the daytime! Now, if the thief survives, they don’t get off scot-free. They must pay some form of restitution, but not their life. Here lies a contrast between the often assumed personal freedoms of American democracy and God’s value system of justice. God provides some form of life assurance even to thief.
Okay, as I said earlier there are no direct parallels, but hang with me here for a hypothetical moment.
The very simple point I want to make here is that not all scenarios where we or others feel threatened are, in God’s eyes (I don’t know this, only going by the Mosaic Law given to his chosen people), reason for the use of deadly force against someone. This point of view is not for your average gun-packin’ Merican’. I already know that they’d squirm out from under this verse faster than Zimmerman attempted to squirm out from Martin before striking him with that fatal gun blast. Their reply may sound something like this…. “This is the old covenant, and you’re trying to take away my “God-given” [really their American civil right ] right to defend myself from danger!” Yeah, I’ve heard it all before! LOL
Yes, it was nighttime when Zimmerman and Martin got into their confrontation, but Martin wasn’t breaking into Zimmerman’s home, or committing a crime. He was being pursued under the false pretense of criminal activity. I think the heart of the scripture above is relatively clear. In God’s eyes, taking the life of another is reserved for extreme measures. That is why even though a property owner may have felt threatened during the day time and in plain sight, it still was not their God-given right to take someone’s life. I’m not willing to stretch this any further, because it would be too easy to.
This leads me to my conclusion. Regardless of what happened that tragic night, the first sin that took place was Zimmerman’s false judgment of Martin. It’s this hitch in the whole reality that is particularly troubling to me, and I believe so many others. We see intent at the heart of true justice as seen by God. God not only judges us on our deeds, but on those things also hidden in our minds and hearts (Ecclesiastes 12:14). Civil law doesn’t have the capability to provide forensic evidence in these areas. In reality neither do we (1 Corinthians 2:11). We can only attempt to judge the hearts of men based on their fruit, and what we observe. What many of us observe is had that false judgment never taken place, the insuing tragedy would never have taken place.
As John Piper put it on his blog, regarding the unfortunate choices that Zimmerman made:
“O what a difference it would have made if George Zimmerman had thought: “I have a gun. For Christ’s sake — for the sake of love — I better not follow this young man. I might wind up using it. Law enforcement is on the way. I have done my duty. Lord, I pray that this man will be treated with respect, and that justice will be done, and that your name will be great in this place.
Evidently that was not his prayer. Now we face the consequences. What are you praying? ”
If for no other reason, we should all pause to reflect on how the most “minor” of sins can lead to dire consequences. Praise God they don’t as frequently as they do. “There but for the grace of God go I.”