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beyond reasonable doubt

The Pharisees came and began to argue with Jesus, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, "Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation." And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.         Mark 8: 11-13    (circa AD 31, Galilee)


Those accused of criminal acts deserve the best possible trial - and the highest standard of proof that they did in fact do the deed. That standard of proof is described by four short words that we can all understand: "proved beyond reasonable doubt".


But the courts also decide upon non-criminal matters - contract, tort (civil wrongs that one person might do to another - or fail to do like negligence) and so on. The standard of proof in civil cases in Jersey is not so strict. Matters before those Courts must be: "proved on a balance of probabilities". 


When facing any accusation of criminal conduct, one's heart sinks. If that accusation requires a Court appearance where one is the accused, the heart sinks to the very bottom and real anxiety kicks in. Very, very welcome, then, is the thought that the case against me must be "proved beyond reasonable doubt". 


Look now (in bold above) at the incident there in Galilee in AD 31........ Jesus refuses to give a "sign from heaven" e.g. a thunderbolt from the blue. He refuses to provide proof to those who wanted to "test" him. Was this a refusal to provide "proof beyond reasonable doubt"?


Actually, no. You see a few hours earlier a great crowd of over 4,000 people had gathered around him in that wilderness area on the other side of Lake Galilee. Being hungry, Jesus had fed them all with seven small loaves and a few fish. And seven baskets remained uneaten. That was “proof beyond reasonable doubt" - as were the many other evidences of this man's authority there in Galilee and, later, in Jerusalem.


Even more for us, of course, the resurrection of this man after he was executed as a criminal (incidentally, was his conviction "proved beyond reasonable doubt"?) is "proof beyond reasonable doubt" that he was who he claimed to be.


Why then did Jesus refuse to give a "sign from heaven"? Was it because he did not wish to provide "proof beyond un-reasonable doubt"?


There are three criminal Courts in Jersey: the Magistrate's Court; the Royal Court; the Court of Appeal. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the ultimate appeal body - it's the Privy Council of Her Majesty the Queen.


Jersey's Comptroller of Income Tax has enormous power to levy and enforce Income Tax on me. His power can be "proved beyond unreasonable doubt" - I have only to look at the Income Tax (Jersey) Law 1961, as amended, to see that power. I, therefore, obey him and the Law he administers. But I do so with an unchanged heart - if you know what I mean - especially when I have to pay up. 


Jesus chose not to provide the demanded signs in Galilee that would prove his claims "beyond un-reasonable doubt" because he had no interest in producing converts who would follow with servile obedience. He wanted disciples with changed hearts.


When asked for that "sign from heaven", that he could readily produce, he decisively got into the boat and left. Signs from heaven would not change the hearts of those who made the request.


There seems, therefore, to be no doubt at all that Christianity will only ever be provable in this our generation in Jersey "beyond reasonable doubt". When this Jesus does eventually prove it all "beyond un-reasonable doubt" it will be too late for a heart change towards him and towards his self-giving suffering as a ransom for many. 


We are all on the jury in this case, assessing the evidence. And the jury is out, thinking through a verdict. Unusually for jurors, each of us gives our individual verdict either by default or by open statement.

‘For too many Christians, vagueness is the vogue; all they have is the courage of their confusions.'  (Anon.)
‘Who do you say that I am? (Jesus to his key followers, AD 31 – and AD 2010)
Richard Syvret

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