From Professor Douglas O. Linder, UMKC School of Law:
Although the 1995 criminal trial of O.J. Simpson for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman has been called “a great trash novel come to life,” no one can deny the pull it had on the American public. If the early reports of the murder of the wife of the ex-NFL football star (turned-NBC-sports-announcer) hadn’t caught people’s full attention, Simpson’s surreal Bronco ride on the day of his arrest certainly did—ninety-five million television viewers witnessed the police chase live.
One hundred and thirty-three days of televised courtroom testimony turned countless viewers into Simpson trial junkies. Even foreign leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Boris Yeltsin eagerly gossiped about the trial. When Yeltsin stepped off his plane to meet President Clinton, the first question he asked was, “Do you think O.J. did it?”
When, at 10 A.M. PST on October 3, Judge Ito’s clerk read the jury’s verdict of “Not Guilty,” 91% of all persons viewing television were glued to the unfolding scene in the Los Angeles courtroom.
In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on popular opinion. Highly publicized news stories are often the subject of public opinion polls and the results of those polls are frequently featured in media news coverage – to the extent that focus may be placed more on popular opinion than on the facts of the event.
During the 2012 Zimmerman trial in regards to the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the evidence and results of the trial were often treated as almost insignificant in comparison to the opinions of people who had no first-hand knowledge of the event and no vested interest in the outcome.
Rasmussen Reports – Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Despite round-the-clock media coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida, most Americans haven’t come to a conclusion yet whether it’s a case of murder or self-defense.
One-third (33%) of adults believe crime watch volunteer George Zimmerman should be found guilty of murder in the shooting death of the Florida teenager, while 15% think Zimmerman acted in self-defense, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. But 52% of Americans are not sure.
Did you notice the emphasis placed on public opinion? The report states, “most Americans haven’t come to a conclusion yet whether it’s a case of murder or self-defense.” The implication is that this is a matter that can and should be determined by public opinion.
Think about it. Is the average person really equipped to determine the legal implications of the case? Or for that matter, did the average viewer have access to all the pertinent evidence? Should the prevailing opinion of the American public be the determining factor in a case like this? Many of us would laugh at the thought… that is, if we stopped to think about it.
How often do you like something on Facebook or comment on a news story, blog, product, photo or video? How often do you vote in an online opinion poll? Am I saying it is wrong to express our opinion in these ways? Is it wrong to read or write comments on news stories or blogs? No, not really. We like to believe that our opinion counts. It makes us feel valued and gives us a sense, although perhaps a false sense, of being in control. And it gives us an opportunity to connect with others who also read and comment.
We need to be aware, however, that contrary to what the media may sometimes imply, popular opinion does not determine truth or guilt. Rather, what it tends to do is to sway our beliefs. A focus on popular opinion encourages us to form our own opinions of what is true, even though our knowledge of the facts is limited and our understanding of the situation may be mostly based on the opinions of others who, in turn, may have no more factual basis for their opinions than we do.
For many, this approach to truth spills over into beliefs about God.
Take a moment to think about your concept of God. What do you think God is like?
Are you simply expressing your opinion? Or is your concept of God based on a reliable source of truth? Do you know for sure? Where did your view of God come from? From what you remember learning as a child? From your family or friends? From your pastor? From movies or television? From popular opinion?
Are you comfortable with your answer?
According to Scripture, God is both transcendent and inscrutable (Isa. 55:9, Rom. 11:33). That means He is, by nature, far beyond anything we can know or imagine. We cannot possibly search Him out or understand Him by human reason alone. That’s why Paul prayed:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father… that He would grant… that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:14-19)
God interacts with humanity to reveal His character and His ways so that we might truly know Him. He makes Himself known primarily through Creation (nature), through the person of Jesus Christ and through the Bible. And He promises to be found by those who sincerely seek Him (Jer. 29:13).
Without His revelation, we could not begin to know or understand Him in the smallest degree. But He delights in revealing the greatest mystery we could possibly know – His very nature – in order that we might experience companionship and partnership with Him.
Jesus Christ took our sins upon Himself. He took ownership of them and He paid the terrible price for them with His own precious life’s blood in order that you and I might have the privilege of enjoying fellowship with the one and only Holy Father God, our Maker.
Do you understand the incredible immensity of His gift?
Do you value the immeasurable price that was paid?
Do you understand that what you think about God will not change what is true?
God is a personal being. He is Himself. His nature does not change because of what you or I or anyone else may falsely believe to be true about Him.
There was a Christian rock band called Third Day that released the song King of Glory in 2000. I like this song because it expresses the desire of a heart seeking to know God:
Who is this King of glory that pursues me with His love
And haunts me with each hearing of His softly spoken words
My conscience, a reminder of forgiveness that I need
Who is this King of glory who offers it to me
Who is this King of angels, O blessed Prince of Peace
Revealing things of Heaven and all its mysteries
My spirit’s ever longing for His grace in which to stand
Who is this King of glory, Son of God and Son of Man
His name is Jesus, precious Jesus
The Lord Almighty, the King of my heart
The King of glory
Who is this King of glory with strength and majesty
And wisdom beyond measure, the gracious King of kings
The Lord of Earth and Heaven, the Creator of all things
Who is this King of glory, He’s everything to me
Lyrics by Mac Powell of Third Day, 2007
[adapted from a sermon originally preached 1/5/14]