Matthew 6:14–15 (ESV)
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Yesterday we posted the account of forgiveness concerning our son’s best friend. Today, we will present issues concerning attorneys – and not just the defense attorney.
Six weeks after Jon’s friend was arrested a preliminary hearing was held. Watching the legal process gave us a small hint of what the men in the prisons whom we deal with on a weekly basis have gone through – and those whom they have victimized. Throughout the process to this point, we had asked many, many questions of law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office and they had been honest – either they told us what they could or they told us they couldn’t tell us.
The time and the day for the hearing arrived and so did we at the courthouse. In Michigan, a preliminary hearing is held for the purpose of determining if there is sufficient evidence for a case to be sent on for an actual trial. We had never been to such a hearing before.
The hearing was held in a courtroom with about four or five rows of seating for the gallery. We sat near the back and directly in front of us, in the front row, sat Jon’s friend as he awaited the hearing, along with his attorney. Then something sad happened. His attorney got up and left. Here was a young man, in his teens, sitting by himself. His family was on the other side of the courtroom – and nobody came to sit with him. Were they prohibited from doing so? I don’t know. Perhaps the bigger question was this – were we prohibited from sitting with him? Looking back, through all this, this is the one regret I have – we didn’t find out whether one of us could sit with him. There he sat – by himself, a slender young man in his teens, looking at the beginning of a process that could culminate in him spending up to fifteen years in prison – and he looked so, so alone. He probably sat there for 5-10 minutes, but it seemed like forever.
The hearing finally began. Arguments were presented. On closed circuit television, the DNA lady from Lansing gave her testimony. Others testified. I sat there, getting angrier and angrier – why? Because the defense attorney kept saying things about Jon that were preposterous – things that were just plain slanderous and wrong. Jon could not speak in his defense. Who was to speak for him? The prosecutor. Did he? Not with regard to the false statements being made. Why? In a hearing like this, all the State is concerned with is getting the case bound over for trial and if the deceased is spoken ill of in the meantime, it doesn’t matter.
The deceased was our son. The boy we had loved through many issues and years. And now he was being defamed in a public forum and no one was defending him. I was furious.
It came time for the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy to take the stand. This was not going to be pleasant. It wasn’t.
He was queried about many details of the autopsy, as was to be expected. Even though you know it’s coming, it’s still difficult – that’s your son they are talking about, having been sliced open and all that. We knew all that was coming. What we didn’t know was coming became the problem.
As the pathologist testified concerning the condition of Jon’s body, he was asked a question about marks on his body. He described something on the underside of Jon’s right forearm. One of the questions we had asked was whether or not Jon had any indications of defensive wounds – whether there was any indication he had known he was going to be hit by the truck. We had been told “No.” We had been told something other than what was in the autopsy report (which we had not been permitted to see or discuss).
The pathologist replied that there was a tire mark on the underside of Jon’s right forearm. Jon was right-handed. I remember sitting bolt upright (literally) when the pathologist said that. My wife said, “What’s wrong?” I said, “I’ll tell you later.”
Did Jon have a second or two before the truck hit him where he knew it was coming? Did he know in that brief moment that he was going to die? That’s all I could think of and I became more furious that we had been lied to. Do we have a definitive answer to either of those questions? No, we don’t. It certainly is a matter of speculation, though. There was more.
We had asked if Jon died instantly and had been told “Yes.” The pathologist gave more testimony and in doing so mentioned the fact that Jon had aspirated blood. There was blood in his lungs? Yes. How did it get there? He breathed it in. Dead people don’t breathe. How long was he alive after being run over, his head having been crushed like a melon? Was he conscious or unconscious during this? More questions to which we will never have the answer. But why were we hearing this for the first time in open court? We had asked these question prior to all this and had been told differently. Did they think we wouldn’t find this out during the hearing at some point? Regardless, my bent toward anger boiled more.
I have a terrible temper. During college (as a non-Christian) I did some real stupid things due to this temper. In those years I played shortstop on a softball team that traveled around Michigan each weekend playing in tournaments. Here are a few examples of my stupidity as expressed through anger. During one game being played on a field where there was no grass on the infield and the surface was baked hard like concrete, covered with very fine gravel, a ball was hit to me on two skips (not “hops” – this was a bullet) and I used good technique, getting “down on the ball,” and the ball took a bad skip on the second one and came up and hit me square in the mouth. Softballs, to be sure, are not “soft.” It hurt. Some players on the opposing team thought the bad skip rather humorous and were laughing in their dugout along the first base line, which was an open dugout, not recessed into the ground at all and it had no protection in front. It was just a concrete block shelter with sides and a top. I heard them laughing. My temper kicked in. Back in those days I had a very good arm and could throw rockets (even at 40, our youngest son said to me when I threw hard as we played catch, he could “hear the ball coming.” Those days are lonngg gone…). I picked up the ball, which was at my feet and threw a rocket. Not back to the pitcher. I threw it at the players in the opposing dugout. Two of them ducked out of the way just in time as the ball hit the blocks behind them with a loud “Crack!” Needless to say, they were not amused and this almost started a fight.
In another tournament, I was coming across second base taking a throw from our second baseman, trying to turn a double play. The runner coming from first went 6-8 feet out of the baseline to take me out, rolling my knees in the process. One problem. This guy was about 6’5″ and must have gone about 275. I was 5’10″ and 175. What do I do? I jumped up and got in his face and start screaming at him. In God’s providence, I was blessed he didn’t pick me up and break me like a twig. My teammates came and tore me away from him before I did anything else stupid. That’s the latent temper that manifested itself as I listened in the courtroom. I was livid.
It came time for the one break in the five-hour hearing. We asked if there was somewhere we could go by ourselves and were directed to a small room adjacent to the courtroom. My wife and I went in and sat down. She asked what was wrong. I told her. I was so angry I did something I had never done before and hope to never do again: I was so angry I cried tears of anger. Does this circumstance permit me to retain my anger? Am I given license to hold onto this rage because “God understands?” No. The Bible tells us – commands us – to do what is cited in the passage at the top of this post. There are no extenuating circumstances where the Christian is permitted to disobey the charge of Matthew 6. My choice that day was the same as we all have every day as we encounter life and its pitfalls and foibles: do I or don’t I forgive?
It took a while that day but I did forgive. It was more important to me to rid myself of the anger than to retain ownership of it. Was it hard or easy? It’s only as hard as we make it. God equips His people to do what he commands. Our challenge is to be obedient regardless of experience of circumstance.
By the end of the hearing, where Jon’s friend was bound over for trial, forgiveness had been granted to both attorneys, by the grace of God. There was another opportunity to obey or disobey the command to forgive as it relates to an attorney. That’s in the next post.