In 1995, I was a public school teacher. My afternoon classes were interrupted on the afternoon of October 3, when the principal at my middle school came over the PA system to announce that a “not guilty” verdict had been issued in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Absolute pandemonium broke loose, as even my sixth-grade students howled with outrage at what seemed an unjust and unbelievable verdict.

Yesterday, I experienced a heart-stopping emotional flashback to that day, when a similar verdict was handed down in the Casey Anthony trial. Anthony, in case you don’t follow any news at all, is the young woman who was on trial for the alleged 2008 murder of her two-year old daughter Caylee. After a much publicized trial — and to much surprise — a jury found her not guilty of any of the charges against her related to the murder of the toddler.

I’ll admit that like many, my initial reaction was anger. It makes me sick to my stomach that someone who by all appearances seems to have murdered their child will go scot-free. Like many, I was forced to ask, “where is justice?” Now that I have had time to absorb and more importantly, time to pray, I realize I have asked the wrong question. My question should have been, “Whose justice has been served – man’s or God’s?”

How you answer this question depends on which of two camps you might fall into:

  • You feel that justice hasn’t been served and you are angry. If you are in this camp, you probably feel sick inside, just as I did when the verdict was announced. Your internal sense of justice screams that something more needed to be done about  the fact that a little girl was murdered and her body dumped in swamp like garbage.
  • You are upset that other Christians are angry. If you are in this camp, your internal sense of grace is loudly telling you to ask those who are screaming for Casey Anthony’s head why they are not willing to extend a grace that they received. After all, justice would be for you and me to die for our sins, yet instead we received God’s forgiveness. Who, then ,are we to demand justice?

After a day spent working through my own emotions and thoughts, here are some observations on this subject. I pray these might help you to put things in perspective if you are wrestling with how you personally should feel about the Casey Anthony verdict.

  • It is right to have strong emotions about events such as this.  In 1 Samuel 13:14, David is described as a man after God’s own heart. This was the result of David seeking to have emotions like God’s own emotions. When we commit to following Christ, it is essential for us to do as David did, and cultivate hearts that feel as God does towards people and circumstances.
  • There is nothing wrong with desiring  justice. One of the most frequent admonitions found in Scripture is that we be people who love justice. Scripture calls over and over for the wicked to receive punishment that is proportionate to their crimes or sins. Romans 13:1-7 is a clear call for us to allow the administration of justice on earth to be in the hands of human governments, who are to “punish those who do wrong,” as per 1 Peter 2:14 .
  • Grace and justice serve the same ends. As I’ve observed the reactions of fellow Christians during the last 24 hours or so, one thing I have taken note of is an attitude of “either/or” that seems to be present. Either justice must be served (meaning that crimes/sins are punished) OR grace must be given (meaning forgiveness is extended). But grace and justice go hand in hand; if you have no sense that wrongs must be punished, you’ll never feel that anything needs to be forgiven.
  • Overriding all else, it is offensive to the Gospel itself if we do not pray for and earnestly desire Casey Anthony’s salvation. If what goes through our heads in this tragic set of circumstances is more of “I want to see her get what she deserves” than “Lord, may your salvation come to her,” then we reveal that we have hearts that are wicked, not hearts full of the grace of God that was extended to us through the Gospel in Christ. In fact, to do other than pray for her salvation is sin, as Jesus himself made clear through Matthew 5:21-22 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”

At this point, regardless of whether the preponderance of evidence points to it, no one can say for certain whether Casey Anthony murdered her own daughter. We may never know for certain who did. That is Man’s justice. But God’s justice is so much bigger than that. If she did murder little Caylee, our hearts can find a place of peace in the knowledge that God’s justice is centered on a grace so deep that God gave up His own Son that we might find forgiveness. God’s justice has been accomplished already at the foot of the cross. If the person who murdered Caylee Anthony trusts in Christ, then God’s wrath for the crime was already poured out on Calvary and His justice was done. If that person does not trust in Christ, then we can be certain that a future Judgement yet awaits, in which the administration of God’s justice will be done.