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Casey Anthony and the justice of God

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Casey Anthony cries next to her attorney Jose Baez after she was acquitted on first degree murder charges of her daughter Caylee (Credit: Reuters/Red Huber/Pool)

“An acquittal can never be appealed. This case is over forever. Journalists and historians can have their verdict, but the legal system is finished with it.” According to CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, the Casey Anthony murder trial is now closed and can never be reopened. But was justice served? That argument is only beginning.

Since the jury acquitted Caylee Anthony’s mother of her daughter’s death, the story has dominated the national news. Did Casey get away with murder? Or was she put through three years of pain while awaiting trial for a crime she did not commit? The jury sat through 33 days of testimony and considered more than 90 witnesses and 400 pieces of evidence before concluding that the prosecution did not prove Caylee’s death to be a homicide. If the district attorney did not prove that the little girl was murdered, her mother obviously could not be convicted of murder no matter how bizarre her behavior in the weeks following her daughter’s death.

Since my next law class will be my first, my legal opinions are clearly not worth your time today. I’d prefer to think biblically with you about this tragedy for a moment.

If justice was not done, how can God be just? I have no way to know if Casey Anthony was guilty of murder. But I do know that life is not fair. The innocent are sometimes convicted, while the guilty are sometimes acquitted.

Before you protest that an unfair universe counts as evidence against a God who is “holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8), you might consider this question: What if God were fair? If justice was always done, I would have received a ticket for speeding to work this morning. Your last untruthful statement would be found out. What we say about people would be said to them. As Calvin Miller points out, “an eye for an eye” would be a rapid way to a sightless, toothless world. The universe would be dominated by justice, but would there be room for grace?

Where was God when the jury rendered its verdict? Grieving the tragic death of his child. Jesus instructed his disciples to “let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). He taught us that “whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5).

Conversely, it seems that whoever harms a child hurts Jesus. The One who wept at the grave of Lazarus (John 11:35) must have grieved terribly over the decomposing body of this precious little girl. He felt the pain of every bereaved family member in the Orlando courtroom on July 5 and today.

What’s more, our Father has experienced such bereavement personally. I thought I understood the cross before our first son was born. Staring into Ryan’s perfect, innocent face as he lay sleeping in his baby crib, I could not imagine allowing someone to whip his back, lacerate his forehead with thorns, then impale his wrists and feet with nails. He is now 25 and recently married. I would die for him without thinking. Watching him die for you? Absolutely not.

And yet our Father’s unfathomable love for us is no guarantee that suffering will bypass us. To the contrary, some of God’s greatest servants “faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and caves and holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11:36-38).

And yet, “these were all commended for their faith” (v. 39). We can reject their example or we can follow it. In an unfair, fallen world where even God is forced to grieve the tragic deaths of innocent children, we can trust our strength or his omnipotence. We can insist that we understand our broken world before we trust its Creator, or we can admit our need for his forgiveness and grace.

Choose wisely.

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