a Christian response to Osama bin Laden’s death

On the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of 9/11, there is the question for the follower of Jesus. What is our reaction to this?

Wherever evil is done, there is the cry for justice. It is folly to brush over the deeds of evildoers. People’s lives are being destroyed by them. There is indeed a justice at work in the world by what scripture calls, the powers. These powers or authorities are indeed fallen themselves. That we Christians have given so much heed to them, and even have joined them in their work, in my view, theologically, is a grave misstep. At the same time, God works in spite of our errors, and I would be the last one to say that there aren’t Christians trying to do good things to help others while in military action. But I am getting off topic a bit here. A series I did related to this in the past.

So there is gladness when evildoers are stopped from doing evil deeds. But there should not be rejoicing when the means used are excessive or inappropriate. I realize that involves subjectivity, for one thing. There is a sense in which there is one kind of justice at work in the world. While a new justice has entered in Jesus, through his person and work, bringing in no less than God’s kingdom in terms Jesus spells out, with a vision of shalom. This is where, actually just like anywhere else, we need all of scripture. We especially need the old covenant prophets here to spell out what this means. For example, weapons of war being turned into instruments of agriculture. Etc.

The vision of God’s kingdom is fulfilled today through the church. The church, or those in Jesus, followers of Jesus are called to live out a new ethic, indeed a higher justice. And the powers end up being accountable to this light that has entered the world in and through Jesus. Jesus actually told his disciples, and tells us who seek to follow him, that we are indeed the light of the world. And that we’re to let our light shine before others, that they may see our good deeds, and glorify our Father in heaven. What was promised in the prophets is fulfilled in Jesus. The ethic of the kingdom is for the world, even though the kingdom itself is not from, or of this world. It is with a King, and subjects having a land, etc., which today is fulfilled only in the church. The church is the one entity where the kingdom of God resides. There can be no such thing as a Christian nation. America even culturally could hardly have ever been called a Christian nation, but certainly never so in any scriptural sense. Only in some sort of, in my view loose, cultural, artificial sense.

So the Christian response to Osama bin Laden’s death should hardly be one of joy. We should take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that they would repent and live. At the same time, we would want them to be restrained. And so we accept and appreciate the justice at work in this world, even if it is out of bounds quite often, in the way it works. One empire, or nation should be careful how it plays its power, because judgment is coming for it, as well.

And we must be sure to seek to live out the ethic of the kingdom of God in Jesus among ourselves. We must forgive each other, and be fully reconciled in the love of God in Jesus. We must love our enemies, and pray for them. Doing good to them, as well–in keeping with Jesus’ words, indeed commands to us. We must resist the lure of the powers to compromise our calling in Jesus. Jesus has won the victory over the powers by his death and resurrection, to be implemented in full when he returns. In the meantime, we are called to stand firm, taking the defensive weapons given to us in Jesus, seeking to stay near God. By grace living out our calling together in Jesus, as a redeemed community, an alternative not only to the models of the world, but for them as well. In the hope of impacting them, while never imagining that the kingdom is anywhere else except in the one entity in Jesus in this world: the church.

We need to love and pray for our enemies*, and live this out as an example to the world. All by grace, all in Jesus, in God’s love made known for no less than the world. Taking up our cross, and praying for the salvation of all.

*We too are enemies of God in ourselves. They are enemies of the west, but of Christians in a different way. We would call them to be friends in the way of Jesus, and certainly not in any worldly way.

I am indebted in my thinking on this to the following: John Howard Yoder, who I am now reading; Scot McKnight; N.T. Wright. Surely another, or others, Miroslav Volf comes to mind as well. And of course the goal is to be true to scripture and God’s revelation in scripture in and through Jesus. I’m working on that, wanting to do so with others.

21 comments on “a Christian response to Osama bin Laden’s death

  1. jill alexander says:

    I agree it is not an occasion for joy, but glad he won’t be able to mastermind any more atrocities. I always feel that people get their come-uppance in life, that what goes around, comes around. Sometimes I feel we just have to sit back and let a greater justice take over. Some people would call that God’s law, some people would call it karma, or even natural justice. Whatever it is, I do believe in it.

    • Interesting, Jill, and well put. Yes, we want to see such people stopped. And sometimes force is necessary. But we’re a world that sees the way of stopping such too much and too heavily in terms of physical, and military force. We need to look at the big picture, and employ other means. While not denying the need at times to stop others with physical force. But I speak of the justice of the world on that last point. The justice the kingdom of God in Jesus brings calls his followers to something different.

  2. Lois says:

    “So the Christian response to Osama bin Laden’s death should hardly be one of joy. We should take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that they would repent and live. At the same time, we would want them to be restrained. ”

    I love this. Thanks, Ted.

    • Lois, Thanks! I couldn’t help but think of the Apostle Paul, who as Saul was bent on the destruction of the followers of the Way, before God intercepted him on the road to Damascus. We are all sinners in need of God’s grace. May God give much comfort to all the victims of 9/11 and have mercy on the souls of the deceased, and may God have mercy on the soul of bin Laden, as well.

  3. Kevin Key says:

    When Christ was presented with judging another’s misdeeds by putting that person to death, his response was “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” I would have preferred for him to be jailed, and for all survivors of 9/11 to be given the chance to face him and explain what pain his actions have caused.

    • Kevin, I so much agree! Thanks for sharing that. Yes, that is a big part of the answer, one way for humans to seek to bring some justice in which hopefully mercy will win the day even in spite of the evil done.

  4. […] * Another post regarding a Christian’s response is found here. […]

  5. […] bin Laden: a collection of Christian reactions Posted on May 2, 2011 by preachersmith A Christian Response to Osama bin Laden’s Death by Ted […]

  6. James says:

    Good thoughts, Ted.

    James

  7. kim says:

    This was a good article on the difference between Justice and vengeance: http://theresurgence.com/2011/05/02/love-your-enemies

    • Yes, I saw that, Kim. We want justice to be sure. And I would add mercy, as well. And I think in terms of the justice and mercy God has brought through the death of his son.

  8. Graham says:

    I want to give some push back against some of what you were saying. I’ll number them to help with responses.
    1. The people who killed Osama bin Laden were part of the US government. Governments exist to execute justice on behalf of God (Rom. 13). Therefore, this was not a “Christian killing” but a governmental execution of a known murderer. Because a nation is made of a majority of Christians does not mean the government forsakes its job of providing justice, opting for grace instead.
    2. I rejoice that our government executed justice to this man. We tend to read only small sections of the Old Testament, the parts devoid of anger, calls for justice, and complaints to God. These emotions are too raw, too real for many Christians who believe Jesus brings only joy, even in times of deep trouble. Instead we stay in the easier sections, ones where God is praised ceaselessly. This stunts our spiritual growth. Passages such as Prov. 11:10 and 21:15, relevant to this situation, give what actually goes on in a person and a healthy response when the wicked are punished. To stay these feelings are out of bounds because “I was once an enemy of God” is simplistic and reductionist. I am not the same as an unrepentant murderer.
    3. I can pray for my enemy to repent and rejoice in justice for the wicked. To put it succinctly, I pray he will repent but rejoice when he is brought defiantly to justice. I do not see how these are mutually exclusive. A Christian can do both. Think of it as the pre- and post- execution mindset.
    4. I do not want to defend those who gloat about Osama bin Laden’s fate. I do not wish for him to “burn in hell” for eternity. Thank God (literally!) that this is not my decision.
    As a Christian, I believe our witness is diminished when we deny that feeling of anger and calls for vengeance can be directed to God. It makes Christianity seem aloof and detached from real life. Christ did not die so that we could turn off our emotions and when we die go to a disembodied oasis of pleasure. He died so we could be in relationship with God, the church and the world. Those who violate this relationship are punished. I am saddened that Osama bin Laden never knew the God I love and serve and repented of his sins. But I have joy that this man has paid the price for his actions through our just government.

    • Graham, Thanks. I agree with much of what you say here. Certainly there is just rejoicing over God’s judgment on the wicked, even as God uses the powers to do so. My burden in the post is to simply say what our task is as those in Jesus in God’s grace and kingdom come in him. That we are to be those who carry our cross, love our enemies, pray for them, do good to them. And entrust judgment in God’s hands, while we pray for their salvation.

    • Steve says:

      While I agree with much of what Graham said, I do believe that as Christians we need to be careful about how our rejoicing may be understood or interpreted. Clearly, we are not to rejoice when our enemies fall or be happy when they stumble (Proverbs 24:17-18). This is because the Lord takes no pleasure in the death of anyone, even the wicked. Instead, He would prefer that they live and turn from their evil ways (Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11). As you mention, before the Apostle Paul was a follower of and witness for Christ, He was a terrorist bent on murdering Christians and destroying the church (Acts 7:57-8:3). Nevertheless Graham’s comments are accurate, governing authorities are God’s servant bringing God’s wrath on those who do wrong or practice evil (Romans 13:1-5). When God allows our enemies to fall it is appropriate for us to worship and praise Him for answering our prayer and bringing us closer to peace (2 Chronicles 20:27-30).

      God’s wrath has fallen on bin Laden through the actions of the U. S. government and its special forces. It is appropriate for us to praise God for what has happened.

      • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Steve. It is questionable to me for us to go on another’s sovereign territory as we did, without their compliance, and it is wrong to kill anyone who is not armed. That is my position. I lean toward this argument expressed by N.T. Wright, as well as a word from Rowan Williams.

  9. KAL says:

    FOR ALL WE KNOW BIN LADEN WAS AN ANTICHRIST, ONE OF THE BAD ANGELS. THE BIBLE DOES NOT LAUD THE WICKED–AND AGAIN I WANT TO MAKE IT CLEAR THAT THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TRUE EVIL–BIN LADEN VS THOSE WHO MAKE BAD CHOICES SUCH AS A BANK ROBBER. THE WICKED WE MUST EXTINGUISH–WHERE IN REVELATION DO YOU WISH TO HAVE THE WICKED REPENT, GIVE ME A BREAK. THE APOSTATES OF SATAN DESERVE NO PLACE IN GOD’S WORLD-THIS ONE OR THE NEXT. THE WICKED HAVE ALREADY MADE THEIR FREE CHOICE–NO PERSON ON EARTH CAN REHABILITATE THEM. IT’S RIDICULOUS THAT ANY CHURCH TRY & SANITIZE BIN LADEN NOW & IF I NEED REMIND THEM, THIS IS THE SAME CHURCH THAT REGULARLY PUT PERSONS TO DEATH DURING THE INQUISITION. THE CHURCH IS NOT PERFECT EITHER.

    • Kal, There is no need to sanitize bin Laden. Nor think the church has not failed numerous times. However only God can make the kind of judgment you make here. And I don’t believe scripture itself closes the door on anyone, provided they repent and believe the good news in Jesus. And Jesus did call us who seek to follow him, to love our enemies, one and all.

  10. […] Osama bin Laden’s death I offered a Christian response to it. But one matter I did not work on was victims. What about the thousands […]

  11. Hello i am kavin, its my first time to commenting anywhere, when i read this article i
    thought i could also create comment due to this sensible post.

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