I’ve read reviews, tweets and blog articles about 12 Years a Slave. I’ve seen it featured on TV and heard about it on the radio. It not only sounds interesting, but like a movie well worth the time to sit and watch.
But I haven’t seen 12 Years a Slave and probably never will.
If I tried, I’m pretty sure my experience will be like Sorina’s:
It’s not that I want to hide from the history of slavery in America. I’ve written about slavery as the central cause of the Civil War, reviewed Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin – one of the greatest American novels and a prime example of abolitionist literature – to understand what we went through as a nation, and pointed out the ridiculous revisionist history some people still insist on promoting about American slavery.
No Stranger to Human Tragedy
I’m not reluctant to deal with human tragedy, whether it’s slavery or any other. But I don’t necessarily want to spend my off hours engaging more of it through movies or “entertainment”, at least not something presented as powerfully as this movie apparently does.
Here’s the thing: Judges deal with horrible, horrible things every day. Whether someone is at the courthouse for a civil case or a criminal charge or a child custody hearing or a juvenile matter or one of the many other cases we judges handle, all those people are in court because something in their lives is going wrong, sometimes tragically so.
- I see family members whose daughter/wife/aunt was killed in a traffic accident, sitting through trial waiting to see if the jury will find the other driver was at fault.
- In that same case, I see the driver accused of driving negligently, of driving so poorly that he killed someone. I see that driver sitting by his attorney each day waiting for the jury to render judgment on what he has done.
- I see people young and old standing before me accused of drug crimes, people who are caught up in an addiction or habit that is ruining their lives.
- In those same cases, I probably won’t see any family at all. There rarely is. People accused of drug crimes, especially repeat offenders, usually have no one who will bother to show up in support of them in court.
- I see parents who once loved each other, now barely able to stand being in the same courtroom together, hoping to convince me they are the better parent.
- In that same case the one person I’ll probably never see is the child they both love. The parents are instead going to ask me to make the decisions for them: where the child will live, who will receive visitation, and how the parents are now going to have to share the child they used to love together but now only love apart.
I could go on: children removed from the home because first one parent and now the other is doing time in prison; a person with mental illness who has no family to care for him or her, the government needing to step in to fill that void; small business owners suing each other over a deal gone bad, with the outcome of the lawsuit deciding whether one or both might end up having to close their business forever.
Most people can’t handle the job I have.*
How Judges Handle It
If you’ve stuck with me this far, you are probably thoroughly dismayed at the thought of all this tragedy. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that we usually don’t have to deal with every single one of these types of cases all in the same day – although there have been some days when it feels like it.
Another thing to remember is that people who become judges are usually good at making decisions; it’s how we’re made. We don’t necessarily like the things that people are going through, of course, but listening to evidence and studying the law and making a decision based on both is something we’re good at.
You’re probably good at your job too. I tend to think most people end up in jobs they are able to do well. But for those who belong to Jesus Christ it’s not just a matter of doing our jobs well. It’s a matter of doing them in Christ (Ephesians 2:10) and for his glory. (1 Corinthians 10:31.)
So I pray about my workday ahead of time. I rely on my colleagues whose wisdom and experience is a treasure store provided by God. And I trust Him who is the Judge of all the earth. (Genesis 18:25.)
But I still think I’ll probably not be seeing that movie.
*Believe me, there are plenty of jobs that I couldn’t handle in a million years either. It goes back to that bit about being made a certain way.