It is fascinating how our society is sometimes captivated by the judicial process. George Zimmerman’s murder trial illustrates that our nation seems to welcome the opportunity to focus on the plight of an individual or small group of people. Public trials, as Zimmerman’s became, grow to be about far more than justice. They also become a running commentary on the character of our people. Especially in the social media generation, when self-expression is commonplace, trials themselves become narratives to carry other narratives. Here are a few thoughts for believers to consider about trials such as this one.
#1 Don’t Bury the Lead
This trial is about justice, after all, and the lives of two people. While the other narratives associated with the trial are secondary, we readily make them primary. In a society that seems quite content majoring in minors, let’s consider our priorities. When we bury the lead, we set ourselves up for misunderstanding and failure. Remember in Acts 6, when Stephen was being accused of all sorts of crazy things, he didn’t get caught up in the minutia. Instead, having well grounded priorities, in Acts 7 he proclaimed the truth about God. In his entire defense, the only time Stephen mentioned himself was in his opening statement: “Hear me, brethren and fathers…” Yes, Stephen was accused falsely and ultimately killed, but that wasn’t the end of his story. He understood that. He was focused on what was important, and he was not going to be sidelined by trivialities, even when his life was at stake. Priorities. Stephen had his right. What about us?
#2 What We Care About Shows What We Care About
Speaking of priorities, what we give our attention to says a lot about who we are and what is important to us. In Matthew 6:21, in His “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus reminded His hearers that, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” What gains our attention? What captures our gaze? What steals our time? Now is a good opportunity to think about the answers to those questions. Remember the movie The Truman Show? [SPOILER ALERT] After the “show” ended all those who had been enraptured by it had to take a moment to recalibrate their thinking – to reset their priorities, and to return to their lives. I wonder if, knowing the ending, those characters would have made a different decision regarding how to spend their time. Sometimes the suspense is just too much to pass up, but usually is fools’ gold.
#3 Societal Loss of Objectivity
OK, Mr. Obvious Man, does this really need to be said? Society is not objective; that’s fairly obvious. That statement is nearly a redundancy, but it is worth noting, I think. In the collective consciousness surrounding the Zimmerman trial, there seems little concern for what actually happened, and more concern for who said what, how they said it, and how people are going to react to what other people say and do after the trial is all over. Of course, the best way for us to discover the objective truth in this case is through evidence, testimony, and the judicial process, so I am not discounting that. Rather, from casual observation, the standard of objectivity seems clouded, in favor of subjective factors. Much like the way we make secondary things the main thing, we trade in the objective for the subjective. I suppose it makes things more interesting. After all, the more narratives, the more different ways the media can tell the story. And who doesn’t love a great story?
I have always appreciated Agrippa’s response as Paul made his own trial defense before the king. “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26:28). Agrippa considered Paul’s words objectively. He remained open to the possibility that Paul could be speaking the truth. Agrippa apparently hadn’t subjectively predetermined the outcome, but was willing to consider that there was a truth to be uncovered. Are we willing to allow the truth to have its voice, or are we so stubbornly entrenched in our positions that we cannot even hear the other side make its arguments.
#4 Associations and Winning Aren’t More Important Than Truth
Pilate famously asked in John 18:38, “What is truth?” Sometimes we fail to understand the answer. The Zimmerman trial has seemingly divided its audience into two sides, both willing and eager to pounce on the other. The talk of riots and unrest resulting from the verdict is truly mournful. It shows that we are often (and in this case) more concerned about who we associate and identify with than about what is true. It shows that victory at all costs is worth any cost.
In Galatians 2:11-21, Paul showed tremendous courage. Peter had fallen into some false teaching and had become part of the “in” crowd at Antioch. It would have been much easier for Paul to stand with Peter – and even follow his path to temporary cultural acceptance. After all, Paul and Peter had much in common, and shared a united vision and mission. But rather than succumb to the peer pressures of association, Paul described Peter as standing “condemned,” and Paul rebuked him. The fruit of that confrontation was a refined unity between the two men (note 2 Pet 3:15), and a clarifying of the purity of the good news of Jesus Christ. Are we bound together first and foremost by race, nation, family, or heritage? Or are we united by truth? When truth leaves the building, unity follows not far behind it.
#5 Empathy, Empathy, Empathy
Trayvon Martin lost his life. In many ways George Zimmerman lost his. Two families have encountered the destruction of human fallenness, and have been broken because of it. And what do we do as spectators? We watch earnestly, waiting to see if there is blood. It reminds me of the all too common scene of the roadside accident. We see vehicles in shambles, emergency personnel on the scene, and while first responders are trying to ensure life for all involved we look on to see the broken bodies. But instead of just gazing at the destruction as if it were some kind of sporting event, what if we prayed for those involved? What if our hearts hurt because we realized that some families might have just lost loved ones and their lives have been changed – now to include incomprehensible wounds? What if we cared about these people like we cared about ourselves? Jesus reminded a lawyer once that loving the Lord God and loving one’s neighbor is the foundation of God’s revelation to humanity (Mt 22:37-39). Paul later told his readers to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15).
Trials like the George Zimmerman trial give us all an opportunity to engage in a Biblical way – with truth, compassion, and sobriety. I hope and pray that the Martin and Zimmerman families will find strength and comfort in Christ. And I hope and pray that when people see how we interact on issues like this, that they will see in us the character of God, and that out of the heartbreak and destruction will emerge hope for those who have long lived without any.