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The judge and the professor: Wisdom waits

Posted by Ron George on October 27, 2018

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee: ‘Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.’ (James 3.13)

It was the last thing I expected to hear from the pulpit three Sundays ago: The preacher met head-on the hot political topic of the week – the confirmation hearings of the Hon. Brett Kavanaugh, nominated to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. (Seems like ancient history, doesn’t it? So much has happened since.)

The preacher recited the facts most of us knew from news coverage. This is what we know, he said, but do we know everything? The utterly silent congregation seemed to shake its head in unison as the preacher said, in effect, no, we don’t know everything. The fundamental question of this sermon, however, was not to affirm our ignorance but to inquire: How ought Christians to deal with this matter of public affairs?

So, what are we dealing with? Pain – the personal pain of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor, and the Hon. Brett Kavanaugh, a federal judge: she, the victim and accuser; he, the angry denier contending he was falsely accused. His best reply to her accusation is that hers is a case of mistaken identity, which she denies, as being “100 percent” certain that her attacker, in high school, 36 years ago, was the man nominated by President Trump to fill the latest vacant seat on the nation’s highest court. (Judge Kavanaugh is now Justice Kavanaugh, having been sworn in on Oct. 6.)

New York Times columnist David Brooks said it clearly in a recent Friday edition of The Newshour on PBS: Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford were savagely beaten by the process of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Everyone went tribal,” Brooks said. There was no sense of there having been a deliberative process. Committee members had their minds made up before Judge Kavanaugh ever appeared for the hearing: Republicans, yes; Democrats, no; and, despite a tumultuous month of hearings and hallway chaos, the alleged sexual-assault accusation finally boiled down to a he-said-she-said standoff. It was her uncorroborated accusations against his indemonstrable denials. The only thing we know, for sure, is that two people came away from the hearings wounded; and, once again, American politics became even more deeply mired in the dynamics of power – who has it and who doesn’t – and revenge.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford swore that she was 100 percent certain that the Hon. Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her 36 years ago when they were in high school.

The preacher maintained that Christians ought to remember that they need not know everything – yet – because not only are pain and suffering rampant on Earth but so is faith, which the preacher defined as “confidence in God.” Sometimes, he said, faith means “making the best of a bad situation.”

So, another question: How do Christians make the best of this bad situation?

Step one, according to the preacher: Don’t believe as though we must have all the answers or that we’re obliged to form an opinion to tell abroad on social media. God, he said, is not ignorant of all the facts in this or any other case; ergo, we who believe in God’s grace must simply bide our time and give grace a chance to work. Time will tell where all this is going, he said; it always does.

The preacher offered some Christian scripture: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8.28) Christians, said the preacher, believe that God is active in time and space reconciling all things by the power of divine love, the kind of love that is self-sacrificing, that heals – that, according to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, transforms one’s enemies into friends.

The problem, of course, is that no such thing happens overnight. It always seems to take longer than most of us are willing to give it. Human beings tend to be impatient, especially when they’re not getting their own way; moreover, it’s especially galling to think that, perhaps, God’s love isn’t leaning toward the good we’re hoping for.

No, it wasn’t God’s will that the Hon. Mr. Kavanaugh be on the Supreme Court, but neither was it God’s will that his nomination be defeated. Given that we know not the mind of God, it’s absurd to make such facile assumptions. We may say with confidence, however, that God’s will – if God there be – has more to do with reconciliation than division.

The Hon. Brett Kavanaugh swore that he has never sexually assault anyone. Someone may have assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford decades ago, he said, “but it wasn’t me.”

One might well ask, “What the hell does that mean?” Hell if I know, except that hating my enemies, no matter how good it feels, is not the answer regardless of whether I believe there is a God in Heaven. It takes no religious faith whatever to perceive that the path to America’s political self-destruction is paved with animosity; however, it might take just a grain or two of faith to believe that “all things work together for good for those who love God.” Drop God from that sentence and we still have a workable moral stance that will improve our ethics.

Is it true? Time will tell, but only for those paying attention to such things; meanwhile, American society will be subject to the unforgiving winds of ideological battle, and there will be no love lost among the factions because, no matter how civil they may appear from time to time, there is no love to be lost – the kind of love that listens, that truly passes over empathically to the standpoint of another to discover new insights; and, perhaps more important, to engender relationships that heal wounds wrought by animosity and strife.

The process may take more time than most of us are willing to give it, but the promise of Christian Tradition – and human reason – is that “all things work together for good for those who love …”

Then there’s that other bit of scripture cited by the preacher: “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” (James 1.19-20)

The preacher said it takes a kind of “hardness of heart” for people who don’t know everything – let alone those who know nothing – to opine on social media about what they believe to be true in this case or that. No one in this case can have an informed opinion, because there’s a critical lack of information regarding Dr. Ford’s belief that Judge Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her more than three decades ago.

Theories abound, of course, even seemingly rational theories based on incomplete information, but such theories most often take on the odor of gossip, about which Judeo-Christian scripture has a few choice words; among my favorites, “Lying lips conceal hatred, and whoever utters slander is a fool.” (Proverbs 10.18)

One more thing: Let’s not mistake withholding judgment for passivity. Wisdom always speaks its piece from solid ground, and Lord knows our nation needs wisdom nowadays as much as it needs bona fide news and information, given the torrent of misinformation surging through our social media accounts.

There’s something transcendent about wisdom rooted in truth. This from Christian scripture; but, again, there need be nothing supernatural about what comes from above. What is clear, is that true wisdom comes from somewhere other than our self-centered egos.

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” (James 3.13-18)

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