When we entered through the grand wooden doors, we were instructed to be quiet - galley members should exchange comments at a low, respectful level. I don’t know what I thought Federal Court would look like (something hints that it might have involved a grandiose bench with a white-wigged judge behind it), but it was different from my imagination. It was simple, wide open, clean. The lines were all straight - appropriate for a place of justice.
Once we settled in behind the press, the defendant (our friend) walked in with his lawyer. His sentence was being determined today, and with it, his and his family’s future. The low level buzz in our section came to an abrupt halt when the prosecuting attorney entered at our backs. It felt as if power had sauntered into the room. We were keenly aware that his words, his tone, even his name wielded great power of influence. But, did he really know the truth? Was he seeking justice, or just an exclamation point at the end of his (in our opinion - arm-twisted) victory?
Of course the atmosphere thickened when we rose to greet the judge. The time had come. I was sweaty-palmed by the time he began to speak. It didn’t sound good. In fact, of the whole first round of comments, it was his harsh ones that hung, even haunted like they wouldn’t leave the room. The pleas supporting the defendant’s honorable motives seemed to float away with the breath they were delivered by.
By the time the final round of comments was nearing an end, we settled in for the impending worst. There was a collective cringe in the galley as the prosecutor started to speak. He reiterating the defendant’s "great breech in judgement" and then began talking about....his character. The prosecutor was emphatic about our friend’s willingness to cooperate with the government at his own expense. He highlighted his truthfulness, humility, respectfulness, and his impacting service in the community. What! Isn’t this when they go in for the kill?
Even the judge gave pause. He began to shuffle through papers, considering other pieces of written testimony. He verbally marched through the defense’s arguments, the letters he had received in support of our friend, and, with a scratch of the head, the prosecutor’s testimony. Could it be that the ship, course so set, was making a turn? At last the gavel fell with the sentence of ....probation. Needless to say, the sigh in the galley was dramatic. Who gets probation because the man leading the charge against you talks about what a great guy you are? Wouldn’t this have made another nice little notch on his belt-o-justice?
I left the courtroom that day reminded that God has sway over all men’s hearts - even men who don’t know His name. I thought about Cyrus, the pagan King of Persia, whom Jehovah chose to defeat the Babylonians and allow the Israelites to go back to rebuild Jerusalem. I find no evidence that he knew Whom he served, and yet God says of him "The Lord’s chosen ally will carry out his purpose...I have called him...he will succeed in his mission." (Is. 48:14-15).
N.T. Wright so aptly states that it is the innate desire of all man for things to be "put to rights" in this world. We all long for the day when Jesus will reign and "putting to rights" will be complete. However, until then, even unknowing allies of the Almighty are carrying out His purposes. Maybe I should expect to see more of it.