Like most people, I have been intrigued by the media coverage regarding the discovery and killing of Osama bin Laden. I’ve also been intrigued by the varying responses that folk have had to this news- as different as crowds gathering to celebrate in Ground Zero and tweets from believers offering pious platitudes about Bin Laden’s death.
One genuine mark of Christian faith is that our relationship with Jesus should take priority over anything else that may influence our thinking about, or our response to, any given situation. In other words, when viewing the death of Bin Laden, whether we are American or British, Democrat or Republican, military personnel or pacifist, we must strive to find out an appropriate Christian mindset. Of course, often discovering that mindset is easier said than done: but I’m going to offer some suggestions here.
There are plenty of instances in the Old Testament of the celebration of enemy deaths, especially when it means God’s people have been protected. Yet those instances are under the old covenant, and don’t really give us justification to celebrate anyone’s death today-however evil they may have been. A more appropriate emotion might be the relief of ‘final closure’ after the capture and punishment of someone who had killed a close friend or family member. Certainly that would be the emotion that people who lost loved ones on 9-11 are feeling now.
REVENGE should never be an emotion that motivates followers of Jesus. Again, there are a number of Old Testament passages that talk of God’s vengeance and God’s revenge, but the coming of Jesus changes that.
Whilst in Romans we read: Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord,
Jesus actually goes even further and says: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
We can’t even appeal to a sense of JUSTICE, because whilst God is a just and righteous judge, we can’t operate from that perfect position, and the reality is that God’s righteous and perfect judgment on us has been carried out hand in hand with his GRACE and his MERCY. It’s only through the death of Jesus that any of us can escape the punishment that our selfishness and sinfulness deserves.
However, that does not mean that we do not have to face the consequences that our earthly behavior leads to. A criminal who gives his or her life to the Lord after committing a major crime would still in all likelihood have to face a long prison sentence. Osama Bin Laden is accountable to the Lord for his terrorist activity and for the countless lives that have been lost as a result of his orders- but that is no different than how you and I are accountable for our actions. There is a sound argument for the idea that he should have been brought to the USA and faced up to his actions in front of an international court rather than being taken out by the special-forces team (however much we admire their professionalism, bravery and service).
This opens up the question-did Bin Laden go to hell? And rather than answer this myself I want to send you to an insightful article by Lee Grady:
Grady references this verse from Ezekiel:
Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?
Rather than being too celebratory about Bin Laden’s death, we should reflect sombrely on the state of the world, remember with sadness all those who lost their lives or who lost loved ones due to acts of terrorism, and pray for a time when terrorists, criminals, violent death, and even armies and special forces teams are no more.
70 years ago our great-grandparents struggled with the questions ‘Is God’s grace enough for Adolf Hitler?’ and ‘Did Jesus die for Hitler too? We ask the same questions today about Osama bin Laden. No-one is too far beyond God’s love, his forgiveness and redemption. Yet that is not the same as saying they will accept and receive that love and forgiveness.