“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King, Jr
“Love your enemies” — Jesus of Nazareth
I was on Twitter when I found out.
I was looking down the latest posts and the trends. I soon saw the term ‘Osama Bin Laden’ was way high up on the trends (though not as much as a certain Rob Bell had been two months earlier for releasing a two minute video…) and I read a tweet which said ‘so that’s what Jack Bauer has been doing the last few years’ or something to that effect.
Something inside me knew what had happened, and I knew it had nothing to do with Jack Bauer. I went straight to the trusty BBC website and it was confirmed.
Osama Bin Laden was dead.
Or rather, US forces had killed Osama Bin Laden.
I’m sure you know who he is. The founder of Al-Quaeda, alleged planner of the 9/11 & 7/7 terror attacks (amongst many others), de facto murderer of thoudsands of people.
Public enemy number one in the eyes of most people in the West, and certainly in the US.
We could debate the politics and the rights and wrongs of killing him for a long time and I don’t claim to have all the answers.
There are good arguments either side, and having lost a parent myself I am sure that there will be people, families of those who died in some of the atrocities caused by this man who will have felt great relief and a sense of justice. There is no doubt that he deserved punishment for his crimes – that is justice.
I had a debate on Facebook at the time on the rights and wrongs of killing him from a so-called ‘Christian’ perspective. After all, as Christians we believe in a God of love, who forgives all sins, who wants all to be saved, and who advocated non-violence.
But therein lies the rub.
Some Christians, many good people, believe that death is a suitable punishment for murder. Many Christians in the US – again, mostly good people I would say – are likely to believe death was the only possible punishment.
Other Christians, like me, believe that on the cross Jesus put to death the old way of doing things. That on the cross He made a spectacle of the way of violence and said it was over, that His non-violent resistance to the most violent and painful form of execution ever devised by man was a symbol of non-violence triumphing over violence, and that the coming Kingdom, the one we’re meant to try and bring to reality right here, right now, that violence will have no place at all.
There are still others who see that argument but say that is the ideal, but the reality is that we live in a broken world, and that many more would die if we had kept him alive than had he died. They argue it was better that one man die than many more if he’d been imprisoned and his allies had responded by taking – maybe even killing – hostages and launching terror strikes demanding his release. They may even use Bible verses like Jesus own words:
“Those who live by the sword, die by the sword”
To me this verse is at the very core of the discussion. When Jesus said these words He’d just been arrested, and Peter’s first response?
He draws His sword and cuts of the ear of a solider who is part of the group arresting Jesus. But Jesus not only stops him and rebukes him, he also heals the ear that’s been cut off.
There’s argument, as ever, about what this means. There has been for centuries most likely.
But to me this is Jesus saying that He will not do things the violent way anymore. That He wants His followers to be marked by something other the violence, that violence should never be our response, and that it brings only death.
But isn’t that true of our world today?
Hasn’t that been true throughout history?
The history of violence and war is our disobedience to that command. That’s the key here. Jesus knows what will eventually happen, He knows human nature, and He knows that this way of responding to violence simply by more violence only creates more pain & suffering, no matter what the intention.
Wars are started by evil men, in the main, and their violence, and the rest of the world’s response to that. When violent people have attacked us, like Hitler, we have responded with violence. It almost makes what Jesus says prophetic. Hitler took up arms against us, and his country and armies died in the same way – violent and bloody. The thing is, when you are attacked, especially by a superior and more powerful opponent, like we were in World War II, then its very easy to pose the question –
“Am I supposed to just take this? Or do I fight back?”
If someone attacks you and they could kill you, do you just let them kill you? No, you try and defend yourself. That’s human instinct.
Is Jesus really saying we should just passively accept people being violent to us? I don’t think so.
Jesus wants us to be empowered – the whole passage about turning the other cheek is about empowerment, about taking power away from those who bully, intimidate and opress us and turning things on their head.
But does Jesus really condone violence? I’d say not. His words and actions demonstrate this.
This one of the conundrums we face.
How do you reconcile non-violence with self-defence and keeping yourself safe, and defeating evil? It’s one of the many paradoxes at the heart of our faith.
Well, I’m not here to give you all the answers. I don’t have them. I’m not God.
I’m just posing the question. Because it’s an important question, one we need to think about.
This is question that has been debated much already, and will be debated for a long time to come. One of those to which we’ll never have a satisfactory answer I would venture. So I’m just going to leave it, and go on to another, more simple yet just as challenging question.
On the question of whether we should we celebrate Osama Bin Laden’s death, the answer is much more simple.
Not in the gloating, self-righteous way many have anyhow. I don’t believe that’s just, or gracious, or what Jesus would do in any way. I respect President Obama for the reserved and dignified way he communicated the news – the rest of us should be similarly reserved.
So how to conclude this dicussion? Well, did you read the quote at the top? A great quote by Martin Luther King, whose work ironically paved the way for Barack Obama to become President, about our attitude to forgiveness and towards our enemies – and this from a man who himself was eventually assaninated, as well as a quote from Jesus Himself, both making similar points.
Jesus is always very clear on forgiveness, and on the value of each and every human life – including Osama Bin Laden.
Jesus forgave the people who killed Him, as they killed Him.
Would you be able to do that?
I know I’d struggle.
Jesus tells us to forgive our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Osama Bin Laden is certainly an ememy to many of us, especially those who have suffered directly or indirectly at his hands and the hands of his followers.
But Jesus died for Him too.
Yes He did.
Also true is the fact that God loves Him as much as He loves all of us.
Yes He does.
As hard as that is to understand, that is the extent of God’s love for us. The Bible tells us that God loves us all unconditionally, and wants all to be saved.
However, the Bible also tells us that God is the righteous judge, and He will judge each of us on what we’ve done, and we will have to give an account to Him for what we’ve done with our lives. Osama Bin Laden will have to do that too, and God will deliver the only ultimately true justice there is – and it will be His justice, not our justice.
In one sense that’s very reassuring. God will deal with Bin Laden, and His way is the best way. It always is.
You see, there’s a big difference between our opinion of what God’s justice is or should be, and the actual reality of God’s justice. We often say the phrase ‘well we’ve all got to answer to God for what we’ve done’ or ‘He/she will have to face up to God for what they’ve done’, about people whose lifestyle we disagree with. I know I’ve done it.
The problem is that we think we’re doing this because we don’t want to judge, but often we are doing it because we think we’re better than that person and think God will think the same and judge them, and we have our own idea of what God’s judgement will look like, and that makes us feel better about ourselves.
So really what we want is not God’s justice for that person. Not in our hearts anyhow.
We want God to deliver our justice.
The reason I know this is that I’ve done it before, and no one ever knows I feel these things or that’s what I’m really thinking – sometimes I don’t even know it. I may have the best of intentions saying that God will deal with that person, and not think I’m judging them, but I am.
In that moment, in my heart, I am judging them and thinking God’s justice is my justice, when actually it’s not.
I’m certain that I can’t be the only person who does this. I think a lot of us do it, and I think when you are part of an organised religion its even easier to do it.
But we must totally surrender Bin Laden, Hitler and everyone to God’s judgement, and trust that even if His judgement isn’t what we would want, that it will, ultimately, be just and true.
Maybe what we really need to do, instead of debating an endless question of the wrongs and rights of Osama Bin Laden’s death, and instead of gloating and cheering, and treating him as almost inhuman, arguably lowering ourselves to his level is instead, over time, try to learn to forgive him for the horrible things he did – as seemingly impossible, and indeed, undeserved that might seem to be. (Believe me, its something I will struggle to do fully)
That is maybe something that will take longer.
One thing we can do right now is should try and see the good that God can bring out of this event. The Bible does promise He will do that, and I know in my own experience how He can bring great good out of the most difficult situations.
Ultimately, we must trust Osama Bin Laden to God and let Him deal with him, because we know that He will always be perfectly and completely just, and accept that God’s justice is better than our justice.
That sounds to me much more like a Jesus response.
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