There has been wall to wall coverage this week of the killing of Osama Bin Laden in the early hours of last Sunday morning. Once this man was at the top of America’s ‘Most Wanted’ list, now his body is at the bottom of the sea.
But how should we respond to this news as Christians?
Some of what has been said over the last few days has caused me to stop and think. It’s all too easy to get caught up in talk of ‘justice’ and ‘revenge’ and ‘payback’. But what is a uniquely Christian response to news of his death at the hands of US forces?
I invested a few minutes this week reading some of what other Christian leaders have posted about this on the web. What follows is a summary of the three insights I have found most helpful.
1. We should be grateful that God's common grace has been shown through the justice exercised by secular authorities.
In Romans 13 the Apostle Paul writes:
‘Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.’ (Romans 13:1-4)
One of the expressions of God's common grace is the establishment of secular authorities who have God-given authority to uphold and mete out justice. In the Old Testament God gave Israel a set of laws that the People of God were to use to ensure justice and the punishment of wrong-doers. Under the New Covenant this responsibility has been delegated to secular authorities. However even though they are secular, they have still been ‘established’ and ‘instituted’ by God . They have been given ‘the sword’ and are an ‘agent of wrath’ for those who do wrong.
Kevin DeYoung offers this insight, drawing on a principle articulated in the Heidelberg catechism:
‘The Navy SEALs that raided bin Laden’s compound did not violate the sixth commandment because, as the Heidelberg Catechism says, 'Prevention of murder is also why government is armed with the sword' (Q/A 105). Surely, this was an instance where the U.S. military, by killing bin Laden, was acting in an effort to prevent more American citizens from being murdered.’
Secular authorities are not perfect however and sometimes do not act with complete purity of justice.
We long for the day when Jesus will return and God’s perfect justice will prevail. Nevertheless, we can still give thanks for those who act courageously to bring evil men to justice. They are evidence of God’s common grace in not allowing a broken world to slide into complete chaos and anarchy.
In his excellent article in Christianity Today (see link below), Michael Horton say this:
'The divine wrath that rulers execute is temporal and finite rather than eternal and infinite. Such justice is never so pure that it is unmingled with injustice, never so final that it satisfies God's eternal law.'
2. We should grieve over the death of anyone, no matter how evil, because every human being bears the stamp of the image of God.
To be honest the scenes of cheering and jubilation in America the day after Bin Laden was killed jarred with me.
Proverbs 24:17 says:
‘Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice.’
Michael Horton is helpful again here:
'We cannot rejoice in the death of the wicked any more than does God (Ezek. 18:23). We may take satisfaction that temporal justice has been served, but Christians should display a sober restraint. When Christ returns, bringing infinite justice in his wake, his saints will rejoice in the death of his enemies. For now, however, he calls us to pray for our enemies, even for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). This is the day of salvation, calling sinners to repent and believe the gospel. We may delight in the temporal justice shown to evildoers, but leave the final justice to God.'
Justin Taylor wrote this:
'I think it’s appropriate for Christians to intermingle grieving and gratitude. Grief for a life made in the image of God but so destructive of human life and so dishonouring to God. And gratitude for justice being served as an instrument of God’s wrath.'
So, we should both grieve and be glad as we consider Ben Laden’s death.
Is this contradictory? Yes, argues John Piper, but it is also evidence that we too bear the stamp of God’s image:
'God’s emotions are complex—like yours, only a million times more. Right now, your emotions about bin Laden are not simple, i.e. not single. There are several, and they intermingle. That is a good thing. You are God-like.’
3. We should redouble our efforts to take the gospel of hope to a broken world.
On hearing the news Mark Driscoll tweeted:
‘The cheering crowds remind us that justice is glorious & comes ultimately through Jesus cross or hell. Justice wins’
And it is precisely because God’s justice eventually ‘wins’, that we need to redouble our efforts to take the message of the cross to a sinful world. It was at the cross that the justice we deserve was meted out on Jesus who took our place. The cross reminds us not to fall into the trap of self-righteousness as we condemn Bin Laden. None of us are without fault before God. Every person will one day face the perfect justice of a holy God.
Michael Horton again:
'Where would we be ourselves if Christ, in his first advent, had brought final and infinite justice instead of bearing it on behalf of his people? On the cross, Christ willingly offered himself as the lightning rod for God's infinite wrath, rising triumphantly on the third day. The events of 9/11 did not change everything in the way that the events of 33 A.D. did. Nor will the death of Osama bin Laden on 5/1/11 satisfy the final justice that awaits him—and all of us—on the last day.'
Perhaps the last word should go to Don Carson who wrote this about Bin Laden in his book ‘Love in Hard Places’, published in 2002:
'He is an evil man, and he must be stopped, but he is a man, and we should take no pleasure in destroying him. Vengeance is the Lord’s alone.
Do not offer the alternative, ‘Should we weep for Osama bin Laden or hold him to account for his genocide and prevent him from carrying out his violent intentions?’
The right answer is yes.'
Michael Horton: ‘The Death of Osama bin Laden: What Kind of Justice Has Been Done?’ on Christianity Today website: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/article_print.html?id=91717
John Piper: ‘Is God Glad Osama Bin Laden's Dead?’ on Desiring God website: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/is-god-glad-osama-bin-ladens-dead