[Updated from the archives.]
There’s an old story about the time a pathologist was cross-examined in court:
“Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?”
“All of my autopsies are performed on dead people.”
Cross examination is an art.
Asking Questions, Getting Answers
Some people who testify in my courtroom don’t want to be there. Others are very nervous about sitting in the witness chair, but know they need to do their best to answer the questions. And then there are the witnesses who are eager – so very eager – to tell us everything they know whether they’ve been asked for the information or not.
The attorneys, on the other hand, ask questions in order to get the information out in a certain way. That’s important for a couple of reasons. One is that the witness may be trying to say something that would be improper for the jury to hear. Another is that – under our adversarial system of conducting trials – the attorneys are entitled to put on their case in the light most favorable to their client, and a witness who blurts out information without being asked for it gets in the way of that.
Here’s some insight on the process:
… in the courts, the character of the evidence depends on the shape of the examination, and a good cross-examiner can do wonders. He will not elicit falsehoods from an honest witness. But, in relation to the total truth in the witness’s mind, the structure of the examination is like a stencil. It determines how much of the total truth will appear and what pattern it will suggest. (C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image.)
Not quite fair, you might think? What happens if something important is left out? That’s the other lawyer’s job, to fill in the gaps with more questions and answers.
The process works.
The Bible is full of questions and answers, often questions of God himself. There’s that scene in Genesis 18 where Abraham repeatedly asks God if he’s really going to wipe out Sodom and Gomorrah even if there are a number of righteous people living there. How about 50? 45? 40? 30? 20? 10? God allows himself to be interrogated and repeatedly answers that he will not destroy the cities if that many righteous people can be found in them.
Our God is not afraid to be questioned. How could he be? He’s God.
Yet in one story the questions seem to border on impertinence.
Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing. (Job 31:35.)
Job calls God his accuser? We know that our accuser is not God, but Satan. How will God answer this outrageous charge?
Unbelievable. Job tries to take God to task – aiming to sit God down in the witness chair and make him answer up for his actions – and God treats Job with dignity, showering him with favor and praise and blessings.
I think Job knew what God was like all along, because in the midst of his anguish and questioning he could yet praise him. I am glad to join him in saying:
I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, apart from my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!(Job 19:25-17.)