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Looking for God in a messy situation

I had my 12 Angry Men moment this past week. Every five years I seem to get a jury summons. In the past I’ve been able to avoid sitting on a jury by boldly sharing my views on my faith or on the jury system. This past week it backfired – as it turned out, the defense attorney was looking for peop…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
I had my 12 Angry Men moment this past week. Every five years I seem to get a jury summons. In the past I’ve been able to avoid sitting on a jury by boldly sharing my views on my faith or on the jury system. This past week it backfired – as it turned out, the defense attorney was looking for people of faith.
The whole thing moved pretty fast and is now a matter of public record. They interviewed 30 of us in an hour, selected 12 of us, and began trying the case immediately. Rubio Noriega had already been convicted of simple battery – beating his wife Marisela. We were to decide if he was also guilty of aggravated assault.
The facts: Rubio had already hit and choked Marisela. She escaped, grabbing their seven year-old girl and fleeing to her cousin’s car. Rubio grabbed some scissors and chased her to the door. The cousin called 911. Twenty minutes later a cop showed up and arrested Rubio.
First person on the stand was Marisela, then the cousin, then the cop, and finally the daughter. The trial took two hours and then we began deliberating.
They elected me as jury foreman. I asked everyone where we stood and was surprised to see seven voting to acquit and the rest of us voting to convict. Sarah, a preschool teacher, was most vocal in Rubio’s defense. “How do we know that he was going to hurt her with those scissors?” she asked.
George, who had been a jury foreman two or three times before made the case for conviction: “All we need to know is that he had the scissors, was chasing her, and that she was afraid.”
Robin, a financial advisor, pointed us to the aggravated assault statute. Assault means making someone fear that they’ll be hurt. It’s “aggrevated” if it’s with a weapon – in this case, the scissors.
We took another vote and two people switched sides. It was now 7-5 to convict.
We talked through the dinner hour without eating, with the A/C off, and the sun now shining through the windows. We were getting hot and ornery. We voted three more times. Each time someone switched until we were 10-2.
I could tell Martha wasn’t going to switch. She told us that Jesus had told her how to vote and her mind was made up. The judge sent us home and asked us to come back in the morning.
I stayed awake till 1 a.m. thinking about the case. In the morning I prayed and got Matt. 9:12-13 “Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'” Mercy for who? I felt it was for Marisela.
When we convened in the jury room, the first thing I looked into was getting coffee for the group. They got us some Maxwell House. We took a vote and were still at 10-2. Then I talked to them about what God had shown me and about our need to come at the issue from a different angle. It didn’t move anybody. We were still deadlocked.
We asked for a transcript of the trial and were denied. We asked for a minor interpretation of the law from the judge and were denied. A couple of times the judge marched us into the courtroom and gave us instructions about reaching a verdict. But we weren’t going to move Martha who said, “My husband will tell you I’m the most stubborn person in the world. I’m dead-set. I’m dead-set.”
Stuck as we were, I asked the other jury members if they would take five minutes of silence and then if they would join me in prayer for Rubio, Marisela, and their daughter.

They agreed and I led them in prayer. And the Lord gave me a word for the two dissenters that I shared with them. Then surprisingly, we began to connect at a pretty deep level. We shared testimonies of our experiences with God, trauma, and with death. Sarah’s 17 year-old neighbor had just committed suicide a few days ago. Mary Beth had been a heroin addict for six years. Both of them relied on Jesus in the midst of it.

We ended a hung jury and the trial was a mistrial. But we grew to like one another, respect one another, and see Jesus in one another.
For me it felt like a microcosm of our universal struggle as humans. Where was Jesus when Rubio was beating Marisela? Where was he as we jurors argued with one another?
Most of the time in that jury room, I guess I didn’t see him. There was only the muddle, the confusion. Me crying out, “OK, God, now would be a good time to show up.” And frankly, that’s often how life is. For a moment at the end I caught a glimpse of him as we prayed and shared.  For a moment, we sensed him in the room.  We may not sense it, but I believe he shows up when we need him, in the middle of our mess.

Comments (11)

  • Seth we have something in common! A few years ago, I was a foreman on a hung jury. Probably won’t have to worry about being on a jury again

  • Wow, good blog

    is the title past or present? I don’t know, seems like the situation is still a mess and still searching?

  • Hi Seth,

    Wow. Thanks for listening and for responding. My confidence level in you and your blog just shot up a couple of notches, particularly because you attempted to address my concerns.

    Now, this is the thing, Seth. I appreciate you very much. your blog, Finding God in a Messy Situation is so significant. I’m in a messy situation right now with my professor in my doctoral program. From the beginning,I have felt a combative spirit with him.I won’t go into details. But my spirit is never wrong, because the word instructs us to try the spirit by the spirit…I even prayed for him through my anger last night and posted it. This morning I’m still dealing with the issue but I am confident that God is in the midst, mainly watching to see how I handle it and that I don’t misrepresent him. That does not mean I should not address the issue. I am also watching myself. I see yet another defining opportunity to use this situation, regardless of outcome, as glory for Him,the father.

    In your blog, even with you changing the end, I was looking to read about the impact of God’s presence. Whenever God shows up in anything, we always know it – those of us of faith and we feel the impact. It may not be earth shattering, it could be subtle, but there is always definitely an impact and we respond voluntarily or involuntarily to it. For your described situation, the juror who emphatically stated that she was stubborn, ask her husband – was boastful and not there to listen or adhere to any facts or instructions. It was clear. God showing up in the midst perhaps could have changed her heart if not her opinion. And for the rest of the jurors, did anyone see how disagreement and frustration can impact a person or people at large lives? And so, the importance is to think about that above all else. The case was not even about who was right or wrong, but about how the events and the outcome impacted the the three lives and the lives of other spectators. What do we really gain from this – spiritually? Why would God involve himself in this mess to begin with? Was it really important enough for him to do so? Of course it was, because he cares for all of us, even the offender. How those of us who have the ability to change the outcome of another’s behavior is an awesome responsibility that has God’s attention. It is what makes us good stewards.

    You guys were serving in the capacity of jurors and not disciples. I get that. But yet you still were disciples, anyway. You all also had a responsibility to one another. The woman who gloated in being stubborn – there was an opportunity to impact her in a way that she walked away a changed creature, now knowing that stubbornness was not a gleaming characteristic to be admired. What were some other characteristics that may have impacted the deadlock? God in the midst? What did you all truly learn about yourselves compared to others? because I would think that introspection even outside of the guidelines of why you all were actually there as jurors would have been a divine opportunity to carry forth once leaving the jury box.

    I have prayed to God in situations where I really needed him to intervene and it seemed like he wasn’t even listening to me. Today, I can say that what I learned from those moments was that he “monitored” me in the midst, watching to see if I would not forsake his teachings and pull from deep within to do the right thing, make the right choices, correct myself, renew my spirit… to be better going forward. And of course, it is never God’s plan for us to hurt someone else in the process. It is our soul to lose.

    I just wanted to read a little more depth into the “plot”, if you will, to clearly define why we think God shows up in a messy situation. I don’t want anyone to think that God’s existence in our lives, even when we think we have a glimpse of him has no purpose other than to say we “saw” him. We should always be able to articulate what his presence meant, the effect it had. This is how we witness to others our relationship with God and how he guides us even quietly.

    Thank you for your blog. Because even though I was not satisfied with your application of it, it inspired me to write and work out what it really means for me as a witness. It does not matter at this point what did or did not occur on that day in jury deliberations. What is important, I think, is that it got me to thinking about it means to me when God shows up in my own messy situations. Sometimes, instead of looking for someone else to give us answers, we just need to be inspired to look for our own.

    Hopefully, you will find a way to share my feedback with others as it may be helpful to them also.



  • Virginia,

    It’s Friday afternoon, so I can’t give you an adequate response at this point. But my point was not that we can expect God to tidy our messes, but that he will sometimes, as you note, show up with his presence and that that is maybe enough.

    He showed up in the jury room when the jury agreed to pray and when we got something out of the prayer and then with the connection that followed.

    As to all your questions – they are outstanding. I pray that your professor will see your heart and that you do everything you may need to for him to see your heart. Your mind is quite supple – often the heart must hustle to keep up.

    As to why God shows up to in the mess – the theological term is that he’s “incarnational.” And really, the mess is all he’s got to work with.

    God bless you.

  • Glory to God in the highest, he does shows up when wew need him the most! Thanks for sharing and God bless you in all your future endeavours!

  • Olah, it’s been awhile Seth since I dropped by ye olde blog. Glad to see you’re still at it.

    I had jury duty last year and ended up being that one lone dissident! It was stressful. In good conscience, I did end up switching to pronounce the multiple-entry house robber guilty (at least on most the counts). Afterwards, I do remember several people thanking me for being a voice of reason in helping slow us down.

    Sounds like you did a good job in getting the discussion below the surface. One of my key mottos in life is, “Life is messy.” Sounds like you did a good job embracing the messiness and facilitating people to share deeply in that unplanned forum.

    Hey, do you know any ministries that work with street kids in Nairobi? I’m in Nairobi now (by myself) and would like to try meeting up with somebody helping street kids to pick their brain and see what they do.

    Currently I have zero contacts here. (as in zero contacts for all of Kenya, not just for street kid ministries – wasn’t planning to even come to Kenya but things happen and I’ll be here ’til next Tuesday)

  • Loved this! It is symbolic of the nature of our world. “stalemate”.. Republicans against Democrats, people against governments, Religions against Religions, race against race. It is everywhere and I think it is one thing I focus on more often than anything when praying for people and nations. There is such richness in the tension though…a quagmire of emotions both dark and revealing. And for those who chose to, as you did in this situation, you have to go deeper to look for the solution. When you go deeper, you realize God is in the mess. Sometimes He IS the mess. Love your blogs…always so thought provoking.

  • “Sometimes He IS the mess” – now that is thought-provoking!

    I’m going to think about that for a while.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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