Right along party lines, Brett Kavanaugh was finally confirmed to the Supreme Court. Those same party lines, unfortunately, also divide us in our communities and drive us far apart.
Some Americans watched the televised hearings with horror as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford revealed her most personal and painful memories in a faltering voice. They believed her story, and some even relived moments of their own past experiences of rape, incest, abuse, and harassment. They were appalled at Kavanaugh’s cavalier and disrespectful responses — responses that never would have been allowed in any regular courtroom hearing.
Other Americans watched with indignation and fury and saw something altogether different. They watched Ford’s halting delivery and were immediately suspicious of her account. All of us have made mistakes as dumb teenagers. Why should they trust the memory of a long-ago occurrence blurred by time, alcohol, and teenage revelry gone awry? No one would be comfortable retelling their own high school exploits to a roomful of senators and to the world.
And as excruciating as it is, we want to believe in our justice system; for it is supposed to be a system that insists that one is innocent until proven guilty by substantial, corroborated, physical evidence. Yet, we know that some incidents of abuse or rape can never be truly proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. By their very nature, they are secretive and happen in seclusion where no one can see them. And even if others do witness it, quite often, they will actually forget such trauma. Such scenarios are usually forced deep into the muscle and matter of heart and brain, called forth only by necessity — or senate committee. Also, victims of these crimes often do not tell others about their attack — not because it did not happen, but because they do not think they will be believed, they are ashamed, or because they have no proof that it happened. Such incidents silence the voices of victims for decades or sometimes, for eternity, as some victims choose suicide to escape their pain.
I think that we as Americans must realize that no one has “won” in this process. The Republicans were able to force through their own conservative candidate, no matter how inappropriate his behavior in the hearings may have been. The Democrats were able to decry the inequality of it all and appear self-righteousness, forgetting that they, too, are far from blameless for the polarization of our government. And we got to observe the mayhem close up for the soap-opera that it was and smugly judge the character of people we do not even know.
So what are we as Christians to believe in watching this story unfold? Whose memory is right — the demoralized teenage girl or the wrongly-accused teenage boy? Whose side are we to be on? More importantly, whose side is God on?
Recently, I was reading the book of Joshua 5 and came upon a fascinating incident I had not noticed before that connects directly to this season of our history. Joshua has led the Israelites across the waters of the Jordan River and entered into the Promised Land. With great thanksgiving, the Israelites celebrate their first Passover. Joshua will lead them in taking over the land promised to their forebears. The current inhabitants — the Amorites and Canaanites — have taken notice of this rag-tag group of peasants led by a mighty God who parts waters, and they are afraid. The stage is set for the Israelites to win, beginning with Jericho.
Joshua is contemplating these events when, suddenly, he sees a man standing in front of him. Something about the man’s appearance must suggest his supernatural identity, or perhaps it is his drawn sword. What we do know is that Joshua is unsure of who this being is and approaches the man with a fairly cheeky question: “Are you on our side or that of our enemies?” (Joshua 5:13) The mystery being’s answer is startling. Instead of a resounding, “Yours, of course, Joshua! God supports you 100 percent,” he answers: “Neither! I’m the commander of the Lord’s heavenly force. Now I have arrived!” (5:14) Joshua realizes he is in the presence of God’s messenger, and his response is to fall on his face in worship, at once terrified and in awe. Their exchange is as follows:
Joshua said to him, “What is my master saying to his servant?” The commander of the Lord’s heavenly force said to Joshua, “Take your sandals off your feet because the place where you are standing is holy.” So Joshua did this. (5:14–15).
The chapter ends there abruptly. The miracle of this jewel of a story is that it demonstrates how God does not take sides, even when it seems God already determined the outcome. God is about justice, and we may be very surprised at what is deemed just in God’s eyes. Jesus told countless parables about the topsy-turvy rules of God’s kingdom, and this story seems to be no different. Jericho is eventually conquered. For a time, the Israelites prosper. Then it all dissolves into chaos once again as the Israelites continue to go their own way, ignoring the God who continues to love them in spite of their bad behavior.
Instead of stubbornly arguing for one side or the other in the Ford-Kavanaugh debacle, we should follow Joshua’s example: we should shake off the choking dust of our hubris, fall on our knees in terror, and ask what God wants of us. Even more dangerous, we must be willing to open ourselves to God’s answer.
It is time for us to take off our sandals, stand on holy ground, and pray that God will show us the way to real truth and justice — or we will certainly continue to make a mess of it just like the Israelites did.