Yesterday we had what was, to me at least, a fascinating sermon on law and the qualities of a good judge. The five qualities that are generally agreed on as being important for judges to possess are as follows: knowledge, experience, integrity, impartiality, and a judicial temperament. Perhaps more than most people I have long been greatly interested in matters of judgment, and in being a judge, as I have found myself regularly, from my youth, to be placed in the position of being a referee or judge because I was thought or recognized to possess these qualities . Since judging, and thinking of many aspects of life in the context of legal and judicial proceedings , comes fairly easily and naturally to me, it is sometimes difficult to understand just how rare or unusual this is. As a very small child, for example, I would regularly referee the wrestling matches and sports games of my neighbors in rural Central Florida, even when I was participating in these games myself, because it was wisely understood that I was the only one among them bookish enough to actually know the rules in the first place, even if this likely contributed to my neighbors thinking me a somewhat odd bird, and probably more than a little bit bossy as well.
At any rate, be that as it may, I wished to discuss the most shadowy and vague of those consensus qualities today, and hopefully I will make it clear, as it can sometimes seem to be one of those vague and shadowy penumbras of an emanation of more easily understood aspects of being a judge. After all, it is fairly obvious that to be a good judge in anything one needs to be knowledgeable about the rules one is enforcing, have experience in the area one is making decisions or verdicts in so that one can do it competently, and that one be a person of integrity and impartiality so that one’s judgments can be trusted as far, as there will never be any lack of concern about bias, or factors that could lead to such accusations if one does not have a firm and solid reputation for being honorable and just in one’s personal conduct. However, it may be less obvious to understand what a judicial temperament is, or why it would be important. Therefore, it is worthwhile to at least briefly examine the importance of this quality, which may be possible to understand by seeing aspects of it in more familiar terms.
One of the more obscure, but also more striking, discussions of the qualities and temperament of judges is given in 2 Chronicles 19:4-11, which reads as follows: “So Jehoshaphat dwelt at Jerusalem; and he went out again among the people from Beersheba to the mountains of Ephraim, and brought them back to the Lord God of their fathers. Then he set judges in the land throughout all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city, and said to the judges, “Take heed to what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment. Now therefore, let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take care and do it, for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, no partiality, nor taking of bribes.” Moreover in Jerusalem, for the judgment of the Lord and for controversies, Jehoshaphat appointed some of the Levites and priests, and some of the chief fathers of Israel, when they returned to Jerusalem. And he commanded them, saying, “Thus you shall act in the fear of the Lord, faithfully and with a loyal heart: Whatever case comes to you from your brethren who dwell in their cities, whether of bloodshed or offenses against law or commandment, against statutes or ordinances, you shall warn them, lest they trespass against the Lord and wrath come upon you and your brethren. Do this, and you will not be guilty. And take notice: Amariah the chief priest is over you in all matters of the Lord; and Zebadiah the son of Ishmael, the ruler of the house of Judah, for all the king’s matters; also the Levites will be officials before you. Behave courageously, and the Lord will be with the good.””
We see in these verses, part of the record of a mostly good king’s actions as a ruler, a great deal of worth when it comes for reflecting on what sort of temperament a judge needs to have. For one, this requires courage, since evildoers are often people of some sort of power, or who use their strength or position or intellect to exploit or dominate or defraud others. It takes courage to stand up to evil, even when one is wearing the robes of office. This is because those who are wicked and corrupt rulers often seek to intimidate or threaten judges into sanctioning their tyranny and oppression, so that the legal system might be as corrupt as every other aspect of a particular state or institution. There are occasions where the courtroom can become more like a circus, as was the case with the O.J. Simpson case when I was a teenager, and the showboating and grandstanding of attorneys and witnesses can threaten the dignity of a courtroom. It takes a certain amount of courage for a judge to toe the line and insist that proper decorum be followed, so that those who are watching or hearing about proceedings are able to trust that what is going on in a courtroom is dignified, so that the process of adjudication and judgment can be trusted to be taken with proper seriousness.
Yet someone who is prim and dignified can easily strike others as someone who is merely prissy, or stuffy, or pretentious. What grants dignity to people is another aspect of Jehoshaphat’s counsel to his local judges, and that is the reminder that those who judge do not do so for man, but for God. We might think the judgment we are called upon to do to be a small thing. Maybe we are a referee or a line judge in a volleyball game, or maybe we are judging the documentaries of Middle School students in the Vancouver area, or maybe we are called upon to arbitrate disputes because we have a reputation for fairness and good judgment, or maybe we are called upon to judge within our own life what sort of course of action to take in various personal matters. Even if the matter of judgment may seem small to us, it can matter a great deal to God. And it is that realization, that we are being witnessed and that our judgment has some kind of role as evidence in a higher court, that grants dignity and meaning and importance to our conduct here and now. A judge does not demand that judicial proceedings go on in a dignified manner because he (or she) is prissy and pretentious, but rather because the proceedings are in some way holy and elevated by the fact that they are being judged by someone who is serving and honoring God. By honoring a judge, we honor the Judge who is above all and over all. This ought to make it easier to respect even those judges with whom we disagree and whom we may not even particularly like on a personal level.
Lest one think this understanding is merely a personal thought of my own with no standing or larger importance, let us remember the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:2-5: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?” If it should have been obvious for new believers from a Gentile background to understand that by having a working knowledge of God’s ways and having the Spirit of God within, and by walking in God’s ways, we are qualified to be judges of the matters of this life, and that by gaining experience in judging the little matters of life here and now, we gained competence and confidence in judging the large matters that we will be expected to adjudicate in the world to come, it should be even more obvious to us here and now. And yet many of us have not acquired the temperament of a judge, the courage to stand up to evil, the dignity that allows us to be kind to others without finding their actions or conversation or existence threatening, but that allows us to take serious matters seriously, and that allows others to see that we behave justly and show the proper respect and regard for other people. We are called not only to be kings and priests , but also to be judges. Let us make sure we are using our time wisely so that can we can become skilled judges, capable of helping to resolve conflict and promote justice in whatever corner of the world where we happen to live, and in whatever matter wherein we are skilled in judging.
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