In 2008 shock and sadness accompanied the death of 3-year old Caylee Anthony, as indeed it should for the senseless death of any child. For some individuals that sense of sadness and the desire for justice appears to have turned into bitterness, anger, and the pursuit of vengeance. The trial of Caylee's mother, Casey Anthony, has captured the attention of many Americans and left some believers confused and conflicted.
As always, believers should turn to the Living Word of G-d for guidance, strength, and encouragement in these situations.
In Deuteronomy 16:20 G-d commands His people,
"Justice, justice, you shall pursue, that you may have life and possess the land which the LORD your G-d is giving you."
This verse lists two things that are the consequence of pursuing justice:
Messiah declared that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (John 14:6)
If we pursue justice then we are pursuing Him.
If we do not pursue justice then we are not pursuing Him.
When the ancient Israelites ceased to seek justice then they also ceased to seek G-d. When that occurred the second benefit of the commandment (possession of the Land) was also lost.
G-d was the One Who enabled the Israelites to remain in the land in the face of their enemies. It was He Who gave them strength and victory in battle and peace afterwards. When the Israelites ceased to pursue justice and pursue G-d then He ceased to protect them from their enemies and they were driven out of the Land. Initially it was the northern kingdom of Israel in the Assyrian captivity (1 Chron 5:26, 2 Kings 15:29, 2 Kings 17:3-6, 2 Kings 18:11-12) and then later it was the southern kingdom of Judah in the Babylonian captivity (2 Chron 36:5-8, 2 Kings 25:1-4, Jer 39:1-8).
The citizens of Florida should pursue justice in the Casey Anthony trial (and in every trial) and in doing so they will in some small measure reflect G-d's righteous justice.
The news media has reported stories across the country that many who are attending or watching the Casey Anthony trial "want to see justice done for little Caylee" and believe her mother should receive the death sentence.
The death sentence?
Shouldn't we first discover through examination of witnesses and evidence whether or not she is guilty? It seems that some have jumped straight to a guilty verdict and want Ms. Anthony put to death. That is not justice... that is vengeance.
While the Bible supports the death penalty in the case of murder (Exodus 21:12, Leviticus 24:17, Numbers 35:15-31) it also requires a trial by judge (Deuteronomy 16:18, 1:16) who must have the evidence of two or more witnesses in any case involving the death penalty (Deuteronomy 17:6).
The judges must judge guilt or innocence in a trial in order to render justice. That is even the pattern that G-d will follow at the last judgment.
If anyone bypasses the judicial process then they are pursuing vengeance... and G-d forbids that:
You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18)
G-d places "loving your neighbor as yourself" (the second greatest commandment) at the opposite end of the spectrum from taking vengeance.
While G-d does command the Israelites to take vengeance upon the Midianites (Numbers 31:2) it is His vengeance they are delivering (verse 3) not their own.
G-d also tells us through the Apostle Paul,
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. (Romans 12:19)
Believers should not pursue vengeance in this matter or any other. It may not be easy when we are filled with righteous anger at the death of a child but with G-d all things are possible.
Some believers may lament the apparent lack of mercy in this situation. "Even if she is guilty", they say, "shouldn't we show her mercy as Christ showed us mercy?"
They sometimes bring up the story of the woman caught in adultery as an example but often overlook the complete picture of that specific event. Let's briefly examine what occurred:
Let's put this into modern terms:
The pastor in the midst of a Bible study would have no authority to judge the accused person... even if the pastor also happened to be a judge. A judge should try the matter in a court of law. The pastor isn't showing the accused person mercy. He is pursuing justice and obeying the law.
Similarly, Messiah's response in John chapter 8 is not one of mercy but of justice. The scribes and Pharisees are testing Him to determine if He is a law-keeper or a law-breaker (John 8:6). Messiah follows the law and calls for witnesses to come forth to "cast the first stone".
The woman is not set free because she was found guilty and then shown mercy but because there were no witnesses who testified against her and she was found innocent!
Similarly, believers who are following the Casey Anthony trial should allow events to unfold and justice to be pursued.