The Grand Assumption

The Grand Assumption

The mood was somber. The judge tried to be friendly, even humorous, but you really can’t shake the austere and cold feeling of a courtroom. I was doing my civic duty. Jury duty. I was there with forty-four complete strangers, listening to various questions and instructions to determine which twelve of us (and two alternates) were to be the chosen ones. As number forty-five of forty-five, I knew my chances were slim. But I still had to go through the process like everyone else.

Participating in jury duty is a rich opportunity to observe human nature. I was fascinated by the cross-section of our population represented in the room. There was a wide range of ethnicities and ages. There were students, nurses, doctors, homemakers, administrators, and construction workers. Some were recent immigrants whose language proficiency eliminated them from the panel. Yet, ironically, the judge too was foreign-born and had earned not only the right to become a citizen, but also to sit in judgment of her fellow citizens according to the law of their adopted land.

As I sat, listening to the judge and the two attorneys questioning my fellow potential jurors, I was struck by what I call “the grand assumption.” Everyone in the courtroom — and in every other courtroom at the Alhambra Courthouse, and indeed every courtroom in this land — was operating under this same “grand assumption.” You may call it “fairness” or “justice,” but we all have it. The jurors were being tested to see if they would indeed do what was right, regardless of their individual biases. This was a criminal case, and we were instructed that our justice system operates under a “presumption of innocence”; that is, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. So, if it was suspected that a potential juror could not be fair, he or she was dismissed. (I presume that many were dismissed for other reasons as well, but that gets us into the nuances of jury selection that are beyond the scope of this article.)

As I sat in my well-padded seat, observing this uniquely American experience, I couldn’t help but hear the voice of C.S. Lewis in my head. In his book Mere Christianity, he discusses the importance of this “grand assumption,” which he calls “natural law.” This law of human nature, he argues, exists in every human being, and is an evidence for the existence of God. Why is it that we know we should do the right thing? Why is it wrong to take something that belongs to someone else? We don’t always do the right thing, in fact we very often do not, but we know we should, and we know that others should as well.

Every one has heard people quarrelling. Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kinds of things they say. They say things like this: “How’d you like it if anyone did the same to you?”—“That’s my seat, I was there first”—“Leave him alone, he isn’t doing you any harm”—“Why should you shove in first?”—“Give me a bit of your orange, I gave you a bit of mine”—“Come on, you promised.” People say things like that every day, educated people as well as uneducated, and children as well as grown ups…Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man’s behavior does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some kind of standard of behaviour which he expects the other man to know about… These, then are the two points I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 17 & 21)

Some may disagree with the idea of the grand assumption, or natural law. To prove their point they may cite the recent Supreme Court decision concerning homosexual marriage, and say, “See, here is a clear example where people disagree over what they think is right and wrong.” Yes, there is a disagreement, but it may be that one side is right and the other wrong. Regardless, each side is still trying to hold the other to an assumed standard of fairness. All things being equal, both sides are demanding what is fair. The rub comes because one side—the traditional (and biblical) view of marriage side—would say, “All things are not equal. Therefore it is fair.”

The Apostle Paul said it best in Romans chapter one. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (Romans 1:20). This grand assumption is in the heart of every man, because God put it there. It is a silent testimony to the God who made him. Fairness, justice, righteousness are right and are to be observed because God is fair, just, and right in his divine nature. Paul will go on in the same chapter to describe how man can deny this truth, he can bend it, bury it, exchange it, and it actually will twist the way the man thinks, but it is not the way it is meant to be.

The fingerprints of God can be found all around us. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork (Psalm 19:1). Even in jury duty, one can see the divine nature of God. Graciously, God has made himself known not only generally in things like creation and conscience, but also specifically in the Bible, and most completely in his Son Jesus Christ. Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs (Hebrews 1:1-4).

–Pastor Dave