Read James 5
Focus on verse 12
Ironically, every time a person steps into a witness stand to testify in an American courtroom, the legal system of this “Christian” nation causes the said witness to do something forbidden within the very book they are asked to place their right hand on as they are asked to do it. I believe the process unfolds in a manner very similar to the following:
The witness is asked to place his or her right hand upon a Bible, and then they are asked, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God”? To which they are to answer affirmatively before they take the stand where they are questioned. The purpose of this obviously is to discourage the witness from distorting the truth in the courtroom. If a witness is proven to have lied under oath, there can be serious legal consequences for the witness.
In today’s reading James admonishes those who follow Jesus not to swear by anything, but to let their testimony and reputation speak for itself.
But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. (v. 12)
I believe the point of this is at least in part that if a person must swear on a Bible to tell the truth in a courtroom, the logical assumption is that there might be places where the person in question might not inclined to tell the truth. In the case of one who claims to be a follower of Jesus, the assumption should be that we always do our best to tell the truth, whether we are in a courtroom or not. For those of us who have the Spirit of God resident within us, it should be against our nature to tell a lie. To agree to swear on a Bible not disobeys this command issued by James, but it casts doubt on the persons integrity by implying their word can only can be trusted fully when under oath I have not seen it done for quite some time, but I do recall some courtrooms making allowance for a person to “affirm” to tell the truth rather tan to “swear” specifically out of respect for those who felt they were being compelled to sin by swearing on a Bible.
Perhaps what I find most ironic in all this is that despite this effort to have witnesses swear to tell the truth, our courts seem to be notorious for finding ways to distort the truth without technically breaking the law. If I recall correctly Jesus had some strong words for the Lawyers and scribes of His day who did this sort of thing. Seems to me He called them things like “snakes” and “whitewashed tombs”.
There is much to be said for a consistent life of integrity that testifies to the character of a person who’s yes means yes, and who’s no means no. When we begin to play with words and debate at great length what the meaning of the word “is” is, it my sound clever, and it my result in keeping a guilty person from being convicted, but it distorts the truth and injustice is never far behind.