Yesterday came the long-awaited and somewhat startling news: Casey Anthony was found not guilty of murdering her daughter, Caylee Anthony. For weeks and months, our media have been obsessed with this story, and now hopefully that obsession will begin to subside. I think it’s unhealthy for a society to focus so intently on the outcome of one murder trial when we can’t do anything to affect its outcome. Instead, society should focus on things that we can influence, such as preventing future murders by teaching children the value of life, teaching adults how to resolve conflicts peacefully, providing medication for those who need it, and so forth.
To be honest, I have avoided the bulk of the media attention around this case. Once the verdict was announced, however, I watched a little more carefully, especially to the groundswell of emotional reactions that came from the American public through social media websites like Twitter and Facebook. The most frequently voiced opinions, by far, were along these lines: Casey Anthony should have been found guilty; the evidence was overwhelming against her; justice was not served; little Caylee deserves justice; some day Casey will have to answer to God for her crime.
That final opinion is what really struck me. To be sure, our scriptures teach that each of us will eventually have to give an account of our lives to God (Romans 14:12, Hebrews 4:13, 1 Peter 4:3-5). However, by applying this to the Casey Anthony situation, are we short-circuiting our own legal system by stepping in as judge and jury ourselves? If we are, then the task of filling an impartial jury must be incredibly difficult. Even worse, are we suggesting that our system of justice functions as an arm of God’s system of justice? If we are, then we have taken the dangerous step of forming God after our own image. Finally, are we claiming that there is no possibility for forgiveness and redemption between a sinner and the Lord? If we are, then we have strayed from the message of Christ altogether.
The story that keeps coming to my mind is that of the woman caught in adultery who was brought before Jesus by the Pharisees as a trap for the Lord (John 7:53-8:11). This story is very complicated, at the very least because its origin is questionable – your Bible probably includes a note about this passage not appearing in the earliest or oldest manuscripts of John’s gospel. And the story can be misconstrued to suggest that Jesus doesn’t care about adultery or that there will be no condemnation for sin; the rest of scripture says otherwise to each of those suggestions. In the end, this story is one of grace: in the heat of the moment, Jesus spares the life of a guilty woman – and he challenges her to “go now and leave [her] life of sin” (NIV). (Of course, the story is also about how Jesus once again avoids a trap by the Pharisees!)
I think the reason Casey Anthony’s trial keeps bringing this story to my mind is simple: God’s system of justice is not the same as the American system of justice. Our system is punitive, punishing the guilty; God’s system is gracious, forgiving the repentant. Our system is myopic, focusing on one person or one crime at a time; God’s system applies equally to all people, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV). Our legal system is based purely on our actions, motives, and evidence; God’s justice is based on our relationship with Jesus Christ: our sins are covered and washed away by his blood.
Church, remember this: we are citizens of the United States, but our greater allegiance is to the kingdom of God. We should constantly strive to see the world as the Lord sees it; we should interact with others on behalf of Christ and out of gratitude for our own relationship with him. Be encouraged: a relationship with Jesus is worth infinitely more than any “not guilty” verdict from a human courtroom! Shouldn’t we joyfully share that relationship with everyone around us?