I remember where I was on 9/11. My family and I had driven to Mt. Home, AR for my grandmother-in-law’s birthday. It was a tiring drive into the late night. That morning, I was in bed. My wife came in and told me that a plane had crashed into the first tower. My thought was, something like a Cessna—single engine plane. Not good, but not really worth getting out of bed for—I turned over and tried to go back to sleep. A frustratingly few minutes later (when you’re tired constant interruptions make you irritable) she came back in loud and fast. A second plane flew into the other tower, “We’re under attack!” That cleared the cobwebs and I jumped up quickly. We spent the rest of the day in the room watching the news. My son, then 1 yr old, kept trying to get us to play and not many of us adults were in the mood for it.
Like many of you, I’ve long wondered why it was taking so long to catch Bin Laden. I’ve wondered what kind of help he’d been getting, where he would be hiding, and wondering if he died would we ever know.
I looked forward to the idea of justice catching up to him at the hands of the US Military. Now that Bin Laden has been killed in an assault by our military, I must say I have mixed feelings. There is a great relief and satisfaction that a guilty person (self-confessed) who is responsible for killing thousands of Americans and even Muslims around the world has not escaped.
The Bible is full of moments in Psalms and Proverbs of the people of God calling out for Justice, calling out for the evildoers to be held accountable. There are numerous questions why the wicked go unpunished or even prosper and then the pleading with God to set things right. There is relief and a sense of joy at the thought (Proverbs 21:15 "When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers." & Proverbs 11:10 "When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy."—these are observations more than commands).
I also experience a sense of sadness in the sense that by all evidence, Bin Laden is now in a Christ-less eternity where he will have no Advocate on his behalf before an Almighty & Holy God. Because even a monster like Bin Laden also bears the Image of God and Hell was not created for him but for Satan and his demons. The way Satan hurts the heart of God is by deceiving those whom God loves and died for and keeping them from a saving faith. The wages of sin is death, and death has found him. God does not want anyone to perish but all to come to repentance.
As much as Bin Laden was an enemy to America and to believers in Jesus (and even his own faith), he was a pawn for our true enemy. Jesus died even to save murderers like him. Is not the Blood of Christ powerful enough to Atone and cover over sins as great as Bin Laden’s? Scripture says yes, but this power is a gift that must be received. The Blood of Christ is Available for all, even if not taken advantage of. I truly believe there is no sin too powerful to overpower the Blood of Jesus—rejection of that saving power is the cause of that.
It is always tragic when a sinner dies in their sin, no matter who it is. That does not mean the person is not deserving, nor that justice or death is not warranted.
When someone is a killer and sheds the blood of men, Genesis says by men his blood will be shed. I’ve read somewhere recently that the idea of the death penalty within a deliberate system of justice does not diminish the image of God in humanity, it defends and upholds it. The New Testament in Romans 13 reminds us that the government does not bear the sword for nothing. As imperfect as human governments can be, they are instituted by God to be a calming influence on the human population and also at times as an instrument of God’s judgment.
What has disturbed me (and others) in the whole death of Bin Laden affair has been the celebratory attitude many of us have exhibited. I was similarly disturbed when after coming out of a movie (Transformers 2--the movie was bad enough) I heard people rejoicing at the news of Michael Jackson’s death.
With Bin Laden, many are throwing a party, in essence “dancing on his grave”. I can understand on some levels, but it reminds me too much of how I was offended at seeing the celebrations in the Middle East when the tower fell. To me, the people celebrating exemplify a spirit of vengeance and not a spirit of justice. Justice is necessary because it means that something terrible has happened. But justice does not take pleasure in it. Vengeance revels and takes pleasure from the suffering of the person in question especially when they are guilty.
This difference between vengeance and justice is especially dangerous for the victims of heinous crimes, and yes we as Americans, as a people, were victims of this man to some degree, some more than others. But when we cross the line into vengeance and take pleasure in the suffering of the perpetrator—we become more like them. We become more capable of doing something heinous because our own sense of pleasure has been corrupted by enjoying someone else suffer.
That is why one of the signs of psychopathic behavior is the mutilating of animals. It can be seen as a cry for intervention in children at a young age. It is a symptom of a greater problem—a lack of empathy for the suffering of others.
I am afraid that Bin Laden’s death reveals the lack of our humanity. When we are corrupted by sin inflicted on us—the more it corrupts us and we give in to vengeance, the more influence over our heart, mind and spirit we really give to the perpetrator—in essence increasing our victimhood.
The power of forgiveness breaks the power of our victimhood—breaks the power of the evil done to us and prevents that person from continuing to inflict hurt upon us.
Make no mistake what I’m saying—justice was served—as best as we could make it. In some sense I would have preferred a capture and trial, but I can understand the mess that would be and the years that would drag on (especially considering how the lawyers got involved with prisoners in Guantanamo—can you imagine the anguish and fighting going on over people who would want to give O.B.L our Constitutional rights?).
But let us remember several verses from the Bible on such issues:
Proverbs 24:17-18 "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them."
Ezekiel 33:11 "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. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!
Ezekiel 18:23 "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?"
Ezekiel 18:32 "For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!"
All of these passages speak to the desire of God for even the wicked to repent. He does not shy away from Judgment of sin, but He would rather see them turn, would rather give Grace.
Remember: Justice is getting what we Deserve. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Grace is getting above and beyond what you don’t deserve.
When Jesus approached Jerusalem, He looked over the city and wept, knowing full well there were wicked people in the city, some people who would kill him just a few days later. He wept because people were unwilling to come to Him. He longed to gather them together under His wings, but their unbelief and hard hearts would keep them from doing so. It broke his heart.
Bin Laden was similarly unwilling. And though we may think BL was undeserving of God’s grace, it still breaks His heart that OBL held out to the end in the deception of the enemy.
God is OBL’s judge, let us leave that to Him. Let us also follow His leadership and not rejoice over the death of the wicked let us through the power of the Holy Spirit, love our enemies and pray for them above what they deserve. Because that says more about us.