“I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”
This deep dive for the facts is called due process, or jurisprudence, the manner by which the legal system gets to the bottom of things. My eyeball into such proceedings was time spent creating quick sketches for the TV news.
Imagine a moving scenario that you had to capture according to the best of your abilities. The courtroom is a cast of characters, and you have to catch the interaction. Unfortunately the courtroom never stands still for a portrait. The job of a sketch artist is to create visuals from a setting where people are constantly moving around, emphatic gestures pass in the moment, and your angle does not always take in the best view of the court. You have to be inventive and selective. You have to be able to intuit what was going on in the courtroom on the fly. You have to be able to find the story.
Sometimes the story was not to be found in the people, but in objects. In court, one of the most damaging things a prosecutor can do, is to put a murder weapon on display. Seeing it up close and personal can swing a jury. Defence lawyers strive to make such evidence inadmissible because it packs an emotional punch.
I can recall a murder trial, where the two accused punkers were scrubbed up and made presentable to the courts, with short hair and tidy suits. Their image took a beating when the crown presented the pair of Doc Martin boots they had stolen from the corpse of the girl they had raped and killed. Such images tell a story. They remind us that there once was a victim who can no longer speak.
A court of law examines truth claims. It challenges falsehood. It reconstructs events based on a succession of witnesses. It is hard to trust the recollection of one person, which is why the verification of other witnesses challenges and corroborates what happened. A story is merely a story until the account is backed up.
Lawyers are generally adverse to putting an accused on the stand to testify. Under the scrutiny of the court, the accused will look glib if he appears to be without emotion. Too much emotion will make him appear guilty. Lie detector tests are also admissible, but are not seen as entirely reliable. The problem is that a psychopath can lie easily and without conscience, and hence pass the test. A psychopath in front of a jury can also act on demand and show them what he thinks they want to see. Hence, all the evidence must be gathered up in a courtroom before it can weigh in the final balance. The jury must look at the whole to assess where there is falsehood.
The branch of philosophy which deals with truth claims is called epistemology. If we have knowledge, can it be proven as true? How do we come to know things? Apart from empirical experience, how do we know if any account is valid?
Truth claims are important, and by extension, how we get there is equally vital. Truth claims are also inherently Christian. John the apostle identifies Jesus as the Logos, the ultimate Truth with a name and an identity, eternal, unchanging and transcendent.
In the fifteenth chapter of Corinthians, Paul proclaims the groundwork - the “first things” of the Christian faith, that Christ died, was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures. That is a lot of truth claims packed into one statement. Hence, Paul appeals to witnesses. He lays out an impressive list of those who saw the risen Christ, and even includes his vision on the road to Damascus.
Jesus said, “Seeing they do not see, hearing, they do not understand”. Your attitude to matters of truth count. Why? Your life is based either on falsehood, or reality. If you do not care about the truth, you are unlikely to find it. One thing I found court sketching, is that to succeed, you had to be “in the zone”. All your faculties were at work, and your brains and emotions kicked in, taking in all the details. The results of paying attention spoke volumes. In the zone, you presented your best reflection of what happened in court.
The Bible is replete with courtroom kind of language. Hebrews chapter eleven talks about a great cloud of witnesses who have come before us. They deliver and prove our faith as part of the apostolic lineage. We lean on the veracity of their testimony.
There is also talk like “we have an advocate” and “Satan our accuser”. There is confirmation of the role of witness… attesting to the truth. “The accuser of our brethren has been thrown down—he who accuses them day and night before our God. They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Revelation 12: 10-11)
Sounds pretty much like court to me.
God told the prophet Habakkuk to write down the vision for end times. He told him to put the worlds bold and clear. Make it plain, he said so that even a messenger running on foot could read it.
The whole world is a courtroom, now in motion and not yet convened. We are charged to bear the truth, and to make it plain for all to see. In that process wheat is separated from tares, dross from gold, and truth from error. Judgement is the final word. The pursuit of truth is noble, and life-giving. It clears away all that is false and unjust. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me”.
Can I Get a Witness?