There is an old Jewish saying, “Two men argued over a cow. One pulled on its head and one pulled on its tale, while it was being milked by a lawyer.” We have an epidemic in the United States. Frivolous lawsuits are paralyzing this country. Not only are court dockets tied up at every level of our judicial system, but just as important is the chilling effect that lawsuits have on people in every walk of life. Public servants of all kinds, police officers, teachers, ministers, social workers, medical professionals, etc. are afraid to do their jobs. Exorbitant awards, ordered by juries and judges alike, not to mention lawyer and court fees, cast a huge shadow over every business and every service organization in this country. Seldom a day passes, that we do not learn of some entity being literally crushed under the burden of unbelievably large, punitive court ordered awards. I agree that individuals must have the right to a day in court to address grievances against other individuals, businesses, or organizations. But surely, we have gone too far. Lawsuits have become far too common. We are suffering under this burden. As always, failing to follow the teachings of the Bible created the problem. Lawsuits ought to be a last resort.
God has spoken to this problem in Proverbs 25:7b-10, “What your eyes have seen, do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame? Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another's secret,
lest he who hears you bring shame upon you, and your ill repute have no end.” (ESV) As always we can learn much from the questions that God asks. Here God is looking at the problem from the vantage point of the individual, particularly the individual who is the instigator or plaintiff. God is trying to get us to understand that we ought to be careful before rushing into court. It seems to me that God wants us to see that whatever it is that we think we saw, might really have been something entirely different. We may not have seen everything. We may not have understood the circumstances or the context. We might be biased. Once we arrive in court, our opponent or his lawyer will do everything in their power to cast doubt in everyone’s mind, including ours, about what our testimony. It is quite possible that we might wind up looking very foolish, being put to shame. The Bible tells us in multiple places that we ought to be slow to anger. We ought to pray intently before heading off to court. We ought to remember that any time we go to court, the possibility of losing is always very real. We ought to carefully weigh the consequences of losing.
The last part of this passage details another piece of outstanding advice. Once court proceedings begin, you and your opponent will both have to answer questions that you would rather not answer. Questioning invariably leaves simply determining facts of the case and moves toward destroying the character of the individuals involved. Plaintiffs, defendants, witnesses, no one is exempted. Character assassination is a favorite ploy of lawyers. We shouldn’t be surprised. God told us exactly what would happen in Proverbs 25. We reveal our opponent’s secrets, he reveals ours, and both reputations are destroyed. Verse 9 says that our reputations will never recover. The first part of verse 9 gives a better way. As reasonable people, we should be able to work this out, one-on-one, in private. If Proverbs is not enough of an authority for you, Jesus Himself commanded us to attempt to resolve conflicts in private first.