Theology for the Long Haul

Monday, May 2, 2011

How Should Christians respond to Usama bin Laden's Death?

Today is a day for sober reflection. One of the worlds most notorious killers was sent to face his Creator and Judge last night. Here are some passages for reflection...

"Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live." (Ezekiel 33:11)

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,"
(Rom 12:17-19)

"And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

If justice was served, and I believe it was, than it is important for Christians to be careful not to rejoice with those who confuse justice with revenge. There should be no room for vengeance in the hearts of those who, though deserving of God's wrath, have been saved by His grace.

What are your thoughts?


  1. Phil I woke up this morning to the news that U.S. forces had killed Osama Bin Laden. It has long before I realized, that for many, emotions are wide and diverse. In light of Bin Laden’s death many have found closure to an event that has transpired 10 years ago on September 11, 2001. Others have mixed feelings because, while they feel that justice has been served, families that have lost loved ones in the attacks, and the subsequent “War on Terror,” could never be brought back to them. Still others have seized the opportunity to turn this into a political platform, suggesting that the timing of Bin Laden’s death is nothing more than a diversion from the recent escalation of gas prices, among other political reasons.

    I cannot help but wonder if this is the best way to honor all that have died in the terrorist attacks, and the war that has followed. In light of this news, the country, as well as Americans across the world, are urged to be on the look out for retaliation. This is the irony of the whole situation. One act of reprisal leads not just to feeling of liberation, but also to fear of subsequent reprisals. This raises several questions: Do we really honor the dead when violence is met with more violence? Can we really move on and have closure to a particular situation as long as the cycle of retaliation escalates, seemingly out of control?

    The one thing that I keep coming back to, as I reflect on this whole situation, are the words of Jesus, when he said “You have heard it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45). Was Jesus actually presenting us with the solution to violence, or was he unfortunately influenced by a sever bout of naïve optimism? May I humbly suggest that Jesus knew what he was talking about? May I also suggest that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was the physical manifestation of his living out of this famous Gospel statement?

    I mourn the loss of all those that have died on September 11, and the “War on Terror.” I also mourn the loss of the terrorists that have died, including Bin Laden. I mourn because, on both sides, we have bought into the deception that retaliation can actually bring about positive transformation. I mourn because we actually believe that that the death of an individual could actually bring closure to a horrific event. Finally I mourn because we actually think that the death of Bin Laden can actually help us honor the American lives that have been lost at the hands of terrorists.

    Perhaps the best way for us to honor those that have died is for us to stop the cycle violence. Maybe the most transforming thing we can do is to love our enemies and to pray for them. May we pound our swords into plowshares, and in the process trade in our destructive tendencies for productive ones.

  2. Brian,

    First of all, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I respect your opinion, and as a student of the Bible, I understand where you are coming from.

    As a person who holds a high view of Scripture, I must acknowledge that sometimes the Bible talks like you, and I need to reckon with those passages. On the other hand, the Bible does not always speak as you do; in fact, the Bible has many examples of God's justice being wrought in this life, and at the hands of human beings. I have prayed for Bin Laden, and do pray for peace. The problem is that innocent people continue to die. Does loving Bin Laden mean that we pray and do nothing to defend those in harm’s way? Do you believe that God would have forced Bin Laden to change if we prayed enough? Are you a Calvinist? What happens if a murderer never changes, do we allow the innocent to pay the sacrifice while we pray? There were, in fact, many Christians who were praying during WWII, but Hitler was not stopped until he forced to do so (and most believers, including my Mennonite friends, would acknowledge that America was damnably late in coming to the aid of European Jews). Where was God then? Let me say, that I am not proposing that God has in some way been unfaithful; rather, I am asserting that maybe God wants us to act for justice, not just pray for it.

    I am not trying to speak of your viewpoint in reductionistic terms, but I think you must acknowledge that the Bible’s language on such matters is not without (I think a healthy) tension.

    Just a few of my thoughts

  3. Phil,

    I agree that injustice must be met with a response. My position does not entail passivity, but rather a desire for constructive responses to the evil we face in the world. Of course we must love and pray for our enemies but we must not confuse this with a free ticket. With that said, I think that we often run the risk of self-deception. Far too often we think that our response to evil is both justifiable and morally sound, but the escalation of violence that follows calls our good intentions into question. An example of this was when the U.S, decided to supply arms to Afghan fighters (which included Bin Laden) to fight against the Soviets in the 80’s. That “justifiable good” turned out to be the very thing that was used against us in recent years. At this point Jesus makes a lot of sense, for he says, “Put your sword back in its place… for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

    When I look at the New Testament I see very little that suggests that violence is an appropriate action in resisting oppression. Perhaps you are relying more heavily on the Old Testament to make this claim. If this is the case then are you referring to God sanctioning a Canaanite genocide so that his people can have a piece of land? Because I do not know anyone who would argue that God is calling us to lead a military camping against an entire people group. Even if we could make an argument from the Old Testament that violence is appropriate than we still have the problem of finding continuity with the New Testament. For it almost goes without saying that Jesus exposes our tendency to want resort to violence, calling us to a better way, time and time again.

    Thanks for the conversation.

  4. Brian,

    I agree with you that sometimes Christians take license when they don't have Scriptural support for one, and that there have been many times when our leaders have not thought through all of the implications of their decisions. That said, I don't really feel like that speaks to the issue at hand. Resorting to violence too quickly in the past has led to devastating consequences, but so has refusing to effectively intervene for too long (WWII, Darfur, etc.). I agree with you that we need to be creative in seeking out non-violent approaches to conflict, but I don’t think you are taking into account that people are capable of choosing to do evil, even when they have not been given a reason by someone else (this is called a sinful nature… it’s the reason every person struggles with selfishness ). We will probably have to agree to disagree.
    Concerning the Old Testament... I believe it has the same authority as the New Testament , and I don’t really see Jesus words and deeds as being in conflict with the Old Testament. I also have no qualms about calling God righteous against the backdrop of the narratives in Joshua. This of course is my conviction and opinion. Again, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.