Osama Bin Laden is dead. After a decade of reining as the most well known face of terror and depravity, Bin Laden will no longer have the privilege of presiding over a culture of terror. As a result of his death, Americans have filled the streets of their respective cities, setting off fireworks and jubilant celebrations. As I think through the implications of Bin Laden’s death, particularly as I thought through how to explain it to my daughters this morning who never lived through 9/11, I wonder if this response is proper for the follower of Christ?
Make no mistake; Bin Laden received justice, which he deserved. The American government did exactly what they should have done and that is bring justice to the man responsible for leading a movement that has led to thousands of American deaths, not to mention a incredibly large number of deaths from many, many other countries around the world. One of the most significant purposes of a government is to exist for this very purpose. Romans 13:4 reminds us that this purpose is an extension of the justice of God. So when I wonder about the Christian response, I am not wondering if the American government’s response was appropriate – no, of that I am certain that it was both right and just.
Instead I am wondering how the Christian should respond to this act of justice? As I contemplate God’s word, I am convinced that our response should not, cannot, be one of jubilation. Proverbs 24:17 reminds us, Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,. This is a strong reminder that justice must be served in God’s economy, but that to rejoice in death – even the death of an enemy, is to celebrate the destruction of God’s intended plan for the world. Even in a belief system that celebrates life, there will be times when death is necessary – unfortunately – because of the presence of evil. However, as follower’s of Christ whose life’s calling is to lead people from death to life, it cannot be true of us that we celebrate the demise of any individual, no matter how heinous their crimes. Ezekiel 33:11 reminds us of the brevity of this situation, Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways” To celebrate Bin Laden’s demise is to somehow deny God’s word that reminds us that we are all equally guilty before God and that we all stand equally condemned as a result of our sin. Yes, Bin Laden’s sin was grievous. Yes, he deserved death. But make no mistake, so do you & I and every other person in the world. We cannot celebrate Bin Laden’s death because it represents another individual who died outside the grace of God and that is tragic.
When Christ came and offered Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity, He did so in an effort to craft a new humanity out of a fallen world. He is creating new hearts out of each follower of Christ, hearts that reflect His grace and hearts that honor His glory. When we celebrate the death of bin Laden with glad hearts we are celebrating that Bin Laden received punishment that he was due, which if we are not careful, means that we are embracing a spirit of revenge. God’s word is once again challenging to us at this point. Consider Matthew 5:43-48, 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. How do we respond to bin Laden in light of this passage? Is it ok to disregard it? Obscure it? Ignore it? Is it important to love our enemies, unless they are really, really bad, as in the case of bin Laden? Should we forgive them, unless they really, really hurt us, as in the case of bin Laden? Please no! If we cannot practice unexplainable forgiveness in the light of horrific tragedy, what kind of faith do we have?
This new humanity that God is creating must have a different response than the thousands that are dancing in jubilation today. We rejoice in justice, but we must do so with heavy hearts. We grieve the loss of life that Bin Laden caused. We grieve the sin that so saturated Bin Laden’s heart that led him down his descent to the grave. We grieve the eventual loss of even his life, as every life is precious in God’s eyes. There is no doubt that the death of Osama Bin Laden is just, but make no mistake it is equally a tragedy. As followers of Christ, particularly ones who live in America, let us be grateful that we live in a country where justice is served; let us be grateful that bin Laden cannot lead the killings of thousands around the world anymore. However, while we are grateful that justice is served, let us not joyfully dance on the grave of a man who is lost for eternity. Let us remember that vengeance is God’s, not ours.