The Casey Anthony trial attracted a nearly obsessive level of media (and viewer) attention. Obsession turned to outrage when the jury handed down the not-guilty verdict, even as some began to wonder about our habit of rushing to judgment in such public cases.
No one should wonder at the interest the Anthony trial drew.
The horror of an innocent child’s death. The sad and lurid charges that Casey made against her father. The spectacle of a mother lying on the stand for her apparently sinister daughter.
Casey’s decadent party spree while her daughter was missing. The oddly detached affect of the defendant herself as she sat day after day in the courtroom.
You can’t make this stuff up and it’s nearly impossible to avert your eyes. It’s like a grisly wreck on the highway. Before you know it you’ve slowed down to catch a glimpse of the carnage.
It all brought to mind a word that seems to have mostly fallen from use these days: wickedness. There is wickedness in the world. Terrible wickedness.
Whether Casey Anthony murdered her daughter in the ways asserted by the prosecution or not, we’re left with a vivid reminder that people do this sort of thing. Daily.
Where is God in that?
Jesus tells us that the Gardener has weeds in his garden. He’s doing something about it, even though it doesn’t seem that way to most mortal observers. That’s because we don’t fully understand the weed issue and the only possible solution.
Here’s what Jesus says:
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, `Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, `An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, `Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, `No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ (Matthew 13:24-30)
Okay, so Jesus actually talks about a wheat field. The point remains the same.
It might not look like it, but this world we inhabit is actually God’s kingdom. The kingdom of heaven is not some other place. Yes, there is more to God’s kingdom than what meets the mortal eye. This is earth and there is heaven. But earth is a part of God’s kingdom.
When Matthew uses the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” he means the sphere in which the sovereign God reigns. God created this planet and the entire universe (and the heavenly realms presently occupied by angels and archangels and the saints who have gone before us).
By all rights every square inch of the cosmos owes loyalty, devotion and submission to God. And yet, this grand wheat field has a wicked weed infestation.
Earthly gardeners spot weeds and yank them out by the roots. It’s strenuous, tedious, seemingly perpetual work, but it can be done. If you don’t get to work soon, the weeds will choke out the whole garden.
Surely God knows this. So what’s taking God so long? Why hasn’t he already plucked out the wicked weeds so that we stalks of wheat can grow unmolested?
As crazy as it sounds—and let me tell you God is crazy in love with us, to use Francis Chan’s phrase—God is giving us time. He wants us to decide what kind of kingdom we want to inhabit. And there are only two: the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of weeds.
The parable of the weeds teaches us that we are living through a period of insurrection. For a time, God allows for revolt against his rule. His reign is not mechanical. It involves our free will. So there must be the capacity to say yes and to say no. But God does not permit “no” forever. You may say no, but you may not remain in his kingdom.
Satan wants a kingdom of weeds. God will give it to him. It’s called hell. Any weed can remain in the kingdom of wheat, so long as the weed will let God make him into wheat.
None of us, you see, is wholly wheat or wholly weed. We cannot make ourselves into unadulterated wheat. The atoning sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is the decisive difference between weeds and wheat. Accepting that sacrifice makes us wheat (eventually; don’t let it go to your head just now).
In the end, weeds cannot remain in the kingdom of heaven as weeds. They are cast among the kingdom of weeds they apparently long for.
There will be a kingdom where mother’s cast away children because they are inconvenient, where we can get our way by intimidation and bullying, where lying is the rule and not the exception, where bonds of affection last only as long as they benefit me, where fidelity is a joke and where what I want takes precedence over all other considerations.
Like I said. That’s hell. And if you want it, you may have it. But God gives us the time we need to see if that’s really what we want.
St. Peter puts it this way: The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
God is most certainly at work, but with a care and a patience that I continue to need and for which I am unspeakably grateful.
(The image above is Vincent van Gogh’s Wheat Field found at http://www.dl.ket.org/webmuseum/wm/paint/auth/gogh/fields/index.htm)