« Paris--Skeel | Main | Poetry in Motion--Skeel »

Will There be Lawyers in Heaven?--Skeel

            A few weeks ago, I was struck by a line in Abraham Kuyper's "Lectures on Calvinism" (1898), one of the great (and accessible!) modern Protestant works on politics and law.   In a world without sin, Kuyper wrote, "every rule and ordinance and law would drop away, even as all control and assertion of the power of the magistrate would disappear."  Heaven, he suggests, is no place for law or lawyers.


            We lawyers come in for a lot of abuse, much of it justified, but I'm not so sure our work will disappear in heaven.  The conclusion that law and thus lawyers will be unnecessary seems to assume that in heaven we will be all seeing and all knowing, and all complexity will simply disappear.  I'm not sure where that assumption comes from; it doesn't seem especially consistent with the hints of heaven, with all its richness and diversity, that we get in the Bible.  The absence of sin doesn't necessarily mean the absence of complexity, and where there is complexity law and lawyers seem to have a role to play.


            I don't think it's entirely coincidental that the Holy Spirit is described in the Bible as an advocate and a counselor, both distinctively lawyerly roles.  The lawyers in heaven will be much better lawyers, but I suspect they will still be dispensing legal advice.


            I'd be curious as to whether others agree.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Comments ( 13 )

Interesting thought as I've played around with an essay titled "Can Lawyers Go to Heaven?"

I'd have to say that I'm not as certain as you David. Jesus had a strong disdain for the Pharasies because they were so rule-bound. They were, in many respects, the lawyers of their days. That said, Paul was very lawyer-like, and God showed him favor. But Paul was able to remain focused on the message.

I think, all to often, lawyers become lost in arguments and rules and miss the message. IMHO (very humble at that) perhaps that explains the vast discrepancies in constitutional interpretation that are so frequent among our lawyer population. But I see what you mean by complexities as well...

This is an interesting idea.

Paul said in scripture, "Do you not know that you will judge angels?" In context he is using the fact that we will all be lawyers a precidence for settling legal disputes among brothers inside the church without going to the state courts. We also know that we will be judged on judgment day according to our unrighteousness, or the righteousness of Christ on our behalf.

According to Revelation, there is a great white throne of judgment where Death and Hades were judged, right after the judgment of the devil.

This appears to be the last judgment. I would guess that the "you will judge angels" snippit would have us involved some point before.

As for in the perfect, sinless land, I could not say whether we would be lawyers, but it seems like a lot of our praises would be supplemented with proofs, just like in law.

For example, “Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

It is still praise to just say, "Worthy are you Jesus," but there is a special honor that comes to using proofs towards the praises of God! It seems like it will be very fun to spend much of eternity singing proofs of God's greatness.

You mean I'll have to keep billing hours? Isn't there another place for that?

A long time ago, a colleague and a fellow Quaker said to me that as lawyers we have "dedicated our lives to the nonviolent resolution of interpersonal disputes." This was in the context of a retreat focusing on integrating our professional and spiritual lives, and I really liked that. So for me, in order to answer the question you pose, I need to first ask whether there will be a need for that mission to continue. I don't think that the scriptures or other religious writings (Christian or otherwise) present a clear and detailed enough picture of the afterlife for us to know for sure. However, it seems to me that legal disputes arise because of social and economic structures, circumstances and interactions between persons that lead to conflicts. Does our vision of heaven anticipate that the earthly circumstances that give rise to earthly conflicts will still be present?

In answer to you main question, I think I'd have to agree with FJP who sees too little Biblical evidence to be confident about the necessity of legal advice in the eternal future.

I thought I would add, though, a small correction to your note about the Holy Spirit being described by two lawyerly terms, advocate and counselor. I think that you're taking those terms from the Gospel of John, wherein they are really just two alternative translations for the same Greek noun, parakletos. It still describes the Holy Spirit, but it's really just one term/role, not two.

I'm not sure complexity alone, without conflict, requires law. I can work on a really complicated math problem without involving law. Cf. 1 Timothy 1:9 ("[T]he law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient..."); Grant Gilmore, The Ages of American Law ("In heaven there will be no law, and the lion will lie down with the lamb. In hell there will be nothing but law, and due process will be meticulously observed.").

Only a lawyer could imagine the Holy Spirit as the counsel of record...

Suppose we think, with Aquinas, that law is a rule of reason. If heaven is perfectly ordered then it is ordered perfectly so by God's reason. And so it seems reasonable to think that there would be law in heaven. Or, perhaps more to the point, you get law even in the absence of sin.

But lawyers? I think Chris has it right - things may be complex, but they won't be conflictual.

Of course, the story is entirely different for political theorists...

Can we think of examples of situations where people of good will would find lawyers useful? Here's one. Suppose two people are making an agreement about who will do which tasks before they meet again. A lawyer is useful for making sure they've covered all contingencies and that they really understand each other. "Contracts" are useful even if nobody expects a court to have to enforce them, just to clarify meaning, and ordinary people aren't all that good at making clear agreements.

Any other examples?

About time for a lawyer joke:

A very good man dies, and as a reward for a life well-spent, goes to heaven. When he arrives, St. Peter meets him at the gate. "Welcome," says St. Peter, "since you were such a good person in life, you may enter heaven." Thank you," said the man. "But before I come in, could you tell me what kind of other people are here?"

"Well, all kinds," replied St. Peter.

"Are there any convicted criminals in heaven?" asked the man.

"Yes, some," said St. Peter.

"Are there any communists in heaven?" asked the man. "Yes, there are," replied St. Peter.

"Are there any Nazis in heaven?" asked the man.

"Just a few," said St. Peter.

"Well, are there any lawyers in heaven?" asked the man.

St. Peter replied, "What, and ruin it for everyone else?"

If the job of lawyer is to be the mediator between man and the state,* then Madison nailed it in Federalist 51:

"It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary."

No government, hence no lawyers.

*sort of similar to the ancient view priests/ministers are mediators between man and God

We now have an answer, from literature at least. There's a fascinating novel just out ("Forgiving Ararat" by Gita Nazareth), very well written, about a young lawyer who dies and, in heaven, learns she's been chosen to join the elite lawyers who defend souls at the Final Judgment...where she ultimately confronts her own killer. The ultimate trials for the ultimate stakes--eternity itself. Her mentor is a lawyer who's been prosecuting souls for thousands of years. I don't want to give anything away, but the book suggests that perhaps we all become lawyers when we die. In addition to a twisting, suspenseful murder-mystery plot, it contains an incredibly deep philosophical debate about about justice, forgiveness, lawyers, judges, God and the law.

I have been inspired to read your blog. I am a divorce lawyer - you can imagine the flak I get. Whenever I am introduced I always pause a moment to see if they may hate becasue of what I "did" to their brother-in-law.

I think complexity will only exist in heaven if lawyers are present. Lawyers have created most of the complexity here on earth for their self-benefit.