I, like most of you, woke up yesterday to the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed somewhere in Pakistan overnight. I remember a little over 10 years ago sitting in the common room at Beeson Divinity School, having just arrived in Birmingham for my first semester of seminary, and watching the World Trade Center crumble. I remember the subsequent days and weeks of speeches, promises and rallies. I remember George Bush standing at the wreckage with the megaphone and the singing of “God Bless America” at sporting events. And I remember the mysterious and grainy video tapes released by Bin Laden in the following years.
How are we to think about this? Are we to rejoice? Are we to take a deep breath of closure? I’m not sure. There are some things I feel more comfortable in prescribing “how to think” to others, but something like this? Maybe a better way than just saying “This is what you should feel” would be to keep a certain number of things in mind as you decide the right way to feel. So here are some of those things I’m trying to keep in mind as I formulate my thoughts:
1. The government has been given the sword by God.
This is the crux of Romans 13:1-6. According to Paul, it’s God’s sword, but the government is the institution that wields it. The government, then, has a responsibility to carry out laws for the good of the people and society. In this, God is pleased because He’s given the government that kind of authority. Now there is an exception to every rule, but in this case, we see the government functioning as it was meant to.
2. God rejoices in justice.
You can’t throw a stone in the book of Psalms without seeing that the Lord loves justice. He’s committed to it; indeed, He is bound to be just by His righteous and perfect character. The tricky part comes in defining what justice is. If God is the author of truth, that means that He alone is defines what is right, true, and fair, regardless of our opinions. We must tread carefully with statements like “Justice has been done,” for when we do so, we walk very close to arrogance and presumption. Who except God can determine the true standard for justice?
3. God does not rejoice in the death of the wicked.
Be it Hitler, Bin Laden, or me, every human being has been created in the image of God. Ezekiel 18 points out that God does not delight in the death of anyone, even the wicked. There was not a great heavenly whoop that went up when Bin Laden had a gun pointed at his head. At the same time, there are plenty of instances when God serves out death for the wicked and sinful. In those instances, He wasn’t I don’t believe delighting in death as much as delighting in His perfect justice being executed.
4. We all want justice – except when it comes to ourselves.
Justice is all the rage, both in the case of Bin Laden and in the oppressed and impoverished peoples of the world. That’s a good thing. Justice is good. But do we really want justice? It seems that we claim to want it, so long as justice is directed at the people we think need it – either justice for them, or justice imposed on them. But when it comes to us, we don’t want justice. Not really. We want mercy.
5. We should be careful to declare “closure” to those dramatically effected by acts of evil.
Is the case now closed for those who will never see their family members again because of the twin towers? Or the firefights in the Middle East or North Africa? Perhaps so, but perhaps not. The death of Bin Laden does not fill the void of a loved one. It seems arrogant to me to assume that everyone who has been wounded by terrorism is suddenly okay now that one man is dead. It might help, but it doesn’t “fix.” Only God and the gospel can “fix.”
Just a few things I’m trying to keep in mind. Are there others? How are you processing the events in Afghanistan over the last few days?
Finally, here are some other posts that might be interesting or helpful to you about this issue:
Is God Glad Osama Bin Laden is Dead? (John Piper)