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386. An Insight into the Divine Strategy In Job 38-41 

 

My insight into the divine strategy in Job 38-41 comes from my experience as a litigation attorney. Yet, the specific instance I relate below arose when I was not functioning in my attorney role but as an expert witness for the defense in the re-sentencing of Oregon’s most notorious serial killer in November 2015.

 

I have written extensively on the capital punishment system in Oregon, but all one needs to know at this point is that after a defendant has been sentenced to death, he still has several legal venues available to him to question the propriety of the sentence of death, as well as the verdict of guilty. When a death penalty defendant’s case is remanded by a higher court, it generally is because there was a serious procedural error below, an error that can only be corrected by a new sentencing trial. At the new sentencing trial, the jury will be asked whether the person should, despite the procedural error, be re-sentenced to death.

 

I was an expert witness in a re-sentencing case not because I had witnessed the crime or had experience as a DNA expert, but because I had compiled the most detailed study of what you might call the procedure of the death penalty in Oregon. I had convincing evidence that it would take at least thirty years from the date of a sentence/re-sentence of death before the actual sentence of death would be carried out.

 

I was put on the stand by the defense to show that the defendant, in poor health and over 60 years of age at the re-sentencing, would be in his 90s before the state would execute him, barring further procedural delays. I showed that it was highly unlikely, therefore, that he would ever be executed. But, I further argued, if the jury re-sentenced him to death, the cost to the state for his future appeals would be huge. The defense argued, in part based on my testimony, that a better solution was for the killer to be given life without the possibility of parole and give up all future appeals.  

 

I laid out the case for this approach on the stand. The defense lawyer thought that our case was airtight. (Re)sentence of less than the death penalty was the defense attorney’s goal. I suspected things would turn out differently. When it was the turn of the District Attorney to cross-examine me, he pursued an interesting strategy, a strategy that may have been influential in convincing the jury to re-sentence the man to death.

 

He looked at me, and in a civil but slightly cynical tone, began to ask me questions. I am quoting from memory and not from the actual transcript of the case—mostly to illustrate the type of questions that were raised:

 

District Attorney:  “Dr Long: Your approach is based on numbers. Are you a mathematician?”

Me:  “No.”

District Attorney:  “Dr Long: Do you have an advanced degree in statistics?”

Me:  “No.”

District Attorney:  “Dr Long: Have you personally calculated how much it will cost the state if he is re-sentenced to death?

Me:  “I have a good estimate.”

District Attorney: “That was not my question. Have you personally calculated the costs that you say the state will incur in putting him to death?”

Me:  “No.

District Attorney: “Is it possible that what you consider will take 30 years will take considerably less?  Is it possible?”
Me: “It is highly unlikely.”

District Attorney:  “Unresponsive. Please answer the question directly.”

Me: “It is possible.”

 

District Attorney:  “Dr Long. Do you have a degree in social work?”

Me:  “No.”

District Attorney: “Do you have considerable experience in counseling those on death row?”

Me: “No.”

 

The questioning continued for some time. Never did the District Attorney ask me one question about my method, about the historical data I advanced, about comparable cases, about the effect of my testimony. All he wanted to know, apparently, was whether the “expertise” I professed was really in the area where I was supposedly presenting information or was in areas that obviously was beyond my ken.

 

I don’t think it was his approach to me, necessarily, that led the jury to re-sentence the defendant to death. But I think it was effective, from his perspective. The reason it was effective is that he basically ignored my testimony and tried to get me to admit ignorance on things. I had come in and was presented as a person of knowledge; the District Attorney’s approach was to try to show me as ignorant. I have no problem admitting my ignorance when that label applies. But his approach was to try to have my words, “No” or “I don’t know” ringing in the ears of the jury so that they might begin to believe that I really knew very little—perhaps about anything.

 

Was the District Attorney engaged in a dispassionate search for the truth? Of course not. His job was to make sure that the jury would have ample grounds for re-sentencing the defendant to death. If the defense’s “expert” was seemingly ignorant, what need is there, really, to deal with the substance of his testimony?  

 

This experience as an expert witness in such a high-profile case has, perhaps surprisingly, given me insight into God’s method or strategy as described in Job 38-41.  As mentioned, most scholars are honest enough to admit that God really doesn’t answer Job’s complaints in the two long speeches in these four chapters. Rather than dealing with the simple question of “Why has your hand done this/permitted this to happen to me when I have lived a blameless life even by your own reckoning?,” God goes in a different direction. God deliberately asks questions to expose Job’s ignorance. God will ask Job whether he has seen things that no human could possibly have seen. God will ask Job if he existed at a time when no human could possibly have existed. God will pose all kinds of questions that seek to undermine Job’s credibility.

 

In a word, God is like the District Attorney in my case. God isn’t interested in a dispassionate search for truth in this instance. I will argue below that if God were truly interested in such a quest, He would have to “fess up” to Job about what He had done. Even Elihu thinks that God is in the process of luring or enticing Job into a broad place of freedom, but God’s approach seems designed to attack Job’s credibility—by a method of indirection. God never says, “I know you have a complaint against me.  Here is what you have said to me. Let me try to answer as follows. . .” 

 

Rather, God just pulls rank, diverting attention of the listeners (perhaps the readers might be likened to the “jury” here) both by magnificent language as well as demonstration of Job’s obvious shortcomings or inadequacies in life. What I will argue in the conclusion to this book is that Job is not “wowed” by God’s questions, just as I was not at all “wowed” by the District Attorney’s method. I saw it as a strategy to win, and it did, but it definitely was not a strategy to get to a just or best solution. Job, I argue, also “sees through” the divine approach and realizes it for what it is: a power play to undermine Job’s credibility. But what God doesn’t count on is that Job, unlike me as expert witness, will have the last word on this one. . .