A few years ago, I started praying that God would break my heart for the things that break His. It’s one of those “be careful what you ask for” prayers because sometimes the pain of the world and the people around me are crushing. I’m not meaning to sound dramatic and I’m certainly not going to drown myself in a river over the things that weigh on my mind and heart, but sometimes it is exhausting.
For several weeks, I have been exhausted by the Casey Anthony trial and discussion surrounding it. Let me first be very clear — my personal feeling is that she probably had something to do with her daughter’s death. But, our justice system is one that puts the burden of proof on the prosecution — everyone is innocent until proven guilty. It is my personal belief that the jury took their job and the instructions given to them about reasonable doubt very seriously. And, I suspect this case will haunt them forever. I was obviously not in the courtroom and did not watch the trial on television, but I do know that there was never a cause of death determined. I don’t know how a person can be convicted of murder when there is no cause of death. All of the evidence was circumstantial and as unfair as that may seem at times like this, a person simply cannot be convicted of a crime based on circumstantial evidence. How incredibly ironic it was that this verdict came down just hours after we gathered together in communities across this country to celebrate the Declaration of Independence and the freedoms that we enjoy as a result of that historical document. How often do we hear of innocent people being held prisoner in other countries because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We often regard those countries as barbaric and backwards. Our judicial system is not perfect and I believe that sometimes criminals go free on technicalities or by lack of evidence. We are right be enraged at the injustice of it all, but at the same time, innocent people often spend years — decades — even lifetimes — in prison. Where is the outrage when it’s discovered that somebody has been wrongly convicted of a crime? What about when we discover, after it’s too late, that somebody was put to death for a crime they did not commit? Where are the mobs of chanting people then? And then I wonder why Caylee Anthony’s story gripped the nation and stories like Christian Choate’s don’t spark a greater public outrage (I’m not saying that there isn’t outrage…just that it didn’t make the news cycle in the same kind of way). Believe me, my soul aches for what Caylee endured at the hands of somebody she trusted. But, that’s not the only thing that makes my heart heavy.
In the days and weeks that have followed the shocking verdict, I think that the most disturbing things I have heard is professing Christians saying things like “I hope she burns in hell”. Often they are the same kinds people who attend evangelical churches and wear WWJD bracelets. Really, I do not think that Jesus would say, “I hope she burns in hell”. In fact, I am 100% certain that He would not say that. The reality is, if you are a Christian, you believe that Jesus came to save us from a destiny just like that. It is the very basis for why we worship Jesus. On Sundays, we lift up our hands and praise Him for the work that he did on the cross. A work that, in a very uncomfortable way, looks a lot like the picture of Casey Anthony leaving the jail in the dark of the night. Guilty. And yet set free. Now, I realize there are fundamental differences — not the least of which is that nobody has paid the price for the crime that was committed. It can be argued that many have paid a price. But, for the crime itself, nobody has been held accountable. And, I think that is what outrages people the most.
But my point is this:
As Christians, we are called to love God and love others as much as we love ourselves (Mark 12:28-31). And, if only we could live up to those two seemingly simple commandments, we would not have situations like babies being found dead in a swamp. But at the same time, wishing somebody eternal damnation in hell is just something that my heart cannot even fathom. Because I think that if you really believe in hell — and you really take the words of Jesus seriously as He calls His followers to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20), then you would be on your knees praying for Casey Anthony’s soul. Because if you look back at that verse in Mark — Jesus doesn’t command us to just love the loveable neighbors. He just simply said we are to love our neighbors. And by neighbors, He meant everybody.
I don’t even know how to end this post because it’s so complicated. I don’t even know why I feel so compelled to post this in the first place. I know how I feel, but I don’t have any answers — especially for people who don’t believe what I believe about Jesus and God and Heaven and hell. What I can tell you is that I believe that God’s heart breaks for what happened to Caylee. But, I also believe that He grieves for the way that people who claim to be His followers behave in the aftermath of such a tragedy. We must think before we speak…because I think that our words reflect the state of our hearts (Luke 6:45). And, we cannot testify to a God of forgiveness and love if our words are hateful…about anyone.