We lawyers have several disadvantages in trying to live the gospel. For one, everyone seems to hate us. However, there is one perk that almost offsets all the drawbacks of being a lawyer/disciple. That is that we have greater access to legal metaphors for the atonement. I do not mean to incite enormous amounts of envy among the readers here, but itâ€™s trueâ€“ lawyers usually have a host of personal experiences on which to draw in filling in the details of all the countless legalistic frames of reference we use to understand the sacrifice Jesus made for us.
Iâ€™d like to elaborate on two of those metaphors by laying out for the lay-reader what happens in one common legal proceeding: the mediation. A mediation takes place outside of a court, and is usually optional (no one can be forced to mediate) and non-binding (once there, no one will be compelled to accept any distasteful result). The two disputing parties get together, often with their lawyers, and tell their stories to a neutral party, the mediator, who is usually also a lawyer. Mediations Iâ€™ve seen start in one room, with the parties taking turns telling the mediator their side of the story. Typically, the parties are then split into separate rooms, and the mediator spends the rest of the time going between the parties, passing offers back and forth, giving his opinion about the strength of the respective positions, and prodding a little bit when one side isnâ€™t giving enough. The goal is to allow the entrenched parties to see what the respected neutral thinks of the case, and allow that central position to soften the stance of each side. Again, this can only work if the mediator is both neutral and at least somewhat trusted and respected.
As I mentioned, often in mediation, the parties will bring their attorneys. As opposed to the role of the mediator, the attorney is charged with the zealous representation of the interests of the client. The attorney is there to advocate the position he or she represents, doing everything ethically possible to get the best result for the client.
The different roles of the mediator and the advocate bring to light an interesting problem in the legal metaphors applied to Christ, who is often portrayed as both. Of course, in the scenario Iâ€™ve just sketched out, if one person were to be both the mediator and the advocate for one party, the entire process would break down. No person could be expected to mediate a case against a party represented by the â€˜neutralâ€™ mediator, because of the inescapable conflict of interest.
And yet, Jesus plays both roles. He is our â€œadvocate before the father,â€? and â€œthe mediator of the new covenant.â€? If we accept the premise of both, we must also accept the fact that there is some cosmic conflict of interest created, wherein Christ serves two masters (neutrality, as a mediator, and me, as my advocate). And yet we are constantly told of the demands of cold, eternal justice. Would such justice ever accept the terms of this mediation, against such odds?
I think the fact that both of these roles are laid out for the Savior hints at the answer: judgment under the rules of the â€œnew covenantâ€? of the atonement is actually a bifurcated affair, consisting of two separate â€œlegal proceedings.â€?
Letâ€™s break down the elements and parties at play in each role. Jesus is the advocate for the righteous (you and me, the defendant), before the Father (either the law embodied, or the judgeâ€“ the dutiful enforcer of the law, depending on your point of view). In this scenario, justice is the concern of the Father, and my interests are the concern of the Savior, meaning that he seeks mercy for the accused. His objective is to find some way in which the requirements of justice can be fulfilled, without my having to do it myself, which would be an awful sentence for me. Fortunately for me, Jesus is a gifted advocate, and is able to clear me by virtue of his reputation, experience, and proffer of himself.
But under what circumstances did he become willing to make such an offering before the Father in my behalf? He does not advocate for everyone. How did I convince him to take my case?
I believe this took place in an earlier transaction. Prior to being called before the judgment bar, I signed up for a free mediation to try to settle my claims out of court. Justice, the prosecutor, showed up and stated all of his claims to Jesus, the mediator. Jesus asked me if it was all true, and I said it was. But, in my defense, even though I had committed all those sins, I had also been baptized, received the other saving ordinances, and lived a Christlike life to the extent I was able.
Understanding that Justice would certainly win the case at court, but taking pity on me, Jesus decides to mediate a deal. â€œJustice, if I can find a way for you to get everything youâ€™re asking for, would you drop the charges?â€? Justice would eye his lawyer, wonder what the catch is, but finally say â€œsure, I guess,â€? and throw up his hands, glad to move on to bigger, sexier cases to prosecute, like that of Harry Reidâ€™s indiscreet home teacher.
Then heâ€™d come to me and say â€œIâ€™ve worked out a settlement, which I donâ€™t do for everybody, but Iâ€™m going to mediate a new covenant, because of the life you led.â€? While Jesus knows Iâ€™m not worthy to win my case at law, he also knows that my life fulfills the requirements of a lower standardâ€“ qualifying me to be his client. So, he give justice what heâ€™s demanding, a perfect life and a universal sacrifice, and for me, he agrees to represent me. He has mediated a new covenant as a neutral third party, and found a way to please both sides. The saving ordinances and commandments, plus the atonement are the covenant.
Itâ€™s that proceeding that seals my fate. If you win the mediation, you win it all, because that means you have Jesus as your advocate, instead of having to go before the Father pro se. And, as everyone knows, Jesus never loses a case.
Thus, Jesus acts first as the mediator of the new covenant, working out the terms of his deal with us. Then, when heâ€™s convinced weâ€™ve kept that covenant, he becomes our advocate with the Father. This is a perfectly good way to avoid a conflict of interest, and thus he avoids an investigation by the ethics panel. Next post: How the atonement acts like a motion to compel discovery within a federal bankruptcy stay.