Just last week a member of my congregation sent me this very personal and moving reflection on his own experience. With his permission I share it here.
Suburban magistrates court and I am there to support a now middle-aged man who is subjected to family issues yet again. He is fearful and stressed not understanding why this is happening to him yet again. The security staff at the airport-style scanner joke with the regulars. The normal security staff are friendly. The Protective Security Officer, with gun and who knows what else sitting in pouches on his flack jacket, looks unapproachable so everyone avoids him. There are long queues at each counter and although this is Monday morning the staff look harassed already.
The faces in the waiting area look empty, worry lines caressing many faces. The worry lines are deeper on those who are there as carers or parents. These are not your comfortable, middle-class people. These are people who do not have the skills to avoid the law; this is the magistrate’s court; people who have difficulty coping with life, who are beaten by life and who know that if they stand up for themselves in the only way they know, they will appear yet again in this court. There is a sense the system has already ground them down. I ask myself, where is God in all of this? What does God have to do with these beaten, empty people and their inability to cope with the pressures of twenty first century life? Where is God in this overworked court system that is meant to deliver justice? I do not see any sense of justice flowing on like a river or righteousness like a never-failing stream.
Suddenly, there is a quiet voice and I turn to meet a young lady. Like policeman, lawyers seems to get younger each year. Surely this professionally dressed lady cannot have finished law school! Yet she is confident and enthusiastic. She cares for the person I am with. She understand his difficulties, that it would be cruel to put him on the stand and have him cross-examined, that his mental illness means he has not a lot of memory of events, that he is as much a victim as perpetrator. She talks with him gently, making sure he understands what is happening, what are his options. Then she goes to bargain with the prosecution, to get some of the issues dropped, to minimise others. She is bright and hopeful and provides this fearful and stressed man with hope and some confidence.
We sit and wait and suddenly another quiet voice asks if everything is ok, and do we understand procedures and where we have to go and what is happening. It is a court volunteer. I talk with her and learn that there are two volunteers each day in each court across the state; that if in each day she can go home feeling that she has made a difference to two or three people then she is content. The fearful and stressed man now knows that there is someone there for him. He explains politely that he understands what is to happen, which court he is in, and thanks her.
Then we are in court. There are several cases ahead of us, all similar. The magistrate is patient. Taking time to explain options to the lost person in front of her. Some are belligerent, angry; most have the hopelessness of those who know they are beaten. Very few are represented. Sometimes the other person in the case is there, shaking and confused, being protected by the court security or a counsellor. The magistrate is gentle, seeking a way that will uphold the law but provide justice to both parties. For this is a magistrate who seeks to dispense justice with mercy. My fearful and stressed man sits as his lawyer trades with the magistrate–options are explored, the magistrate gently explaining why certain options could end up being bad for him. Eventually they agree on an option. The magistrate gets him to stand, explains what will happens, why it is happening and then explains what he can do if things don’t work out. We walk out bowing to the magistrate.
In this place of hopelessness and beaten people I have been confronted again by the mercurial God; a God who bargains for the hopeless and beaten, who sets limits and is content if a difference can be made for two or three, even though it should be all; a God who dispenses mercy along with justice, so that righteousness flows like a never-failing stream.
I am reminded of the traditional prayer of the church – ‘O lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us’ – and that the prayer continues – ‘O lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.’