Usama bin Laden and the Christian response
** Dear reader, this post is meant to engender thought within the Christ follower. You may find this offensive but if you do please ask yourself why. I am not writing this to anger anyone and if I have please accept my deepest apology.**
A little over a week ago I was at work trying to finish up the night and avoid further talk about the now Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Catherine) when I received some text from my wife.
- “President to address nation shortly odd”
- “Fox [News] is saying [Usama] bin Laden is dead”
I quickly began to internally celebrate, that then spilled over to my coworkers. We discussed whether or not the text could be true. I jumped on my phone to find Twitter ablaze with speculations and “proof” one way or another, so I quickly finished my work and jumped into my car and listened to the radio on the way home ( I already listen to talk radio so no need to switch channels). That night I had not eaten so I dropped by a Burger King drive-through. Ironically, the young lady who served me told me that she, and some of her relatives had served in the military. She was really excited to hear our presidents remarks. I gave her a high five and drove away expectantly.
As I drove I listened intently to the evidence, when I reached home we stayed up for our Presidents speech and then sat and discussed the repercussions with my wife. At the same time I was reading Twitter feeds and even making some statements myself (wise or not) about the current situation. Very quickly, between Facebook, Twitter, and the images on the TV, things were becoming disturbing. My wife and I started to have a conversation that trickled over the next few days on whether our response was right. It started with relief espoused by the broadcasters, and quickly diminished into wild celebrations, and I quickly started to ask, “Is this celebration more about ‘Justice’ or ‘Vengeance'”?
Justice is the concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, fairness, or equity, along with the punishment of the breach of said ethics.
Vengeance is a harmful action against a person or group in response to a grievance, be it real or perceived. It is also called “payback”. Although revenge resembles some conceptions of justice, vengeance is usually depicted as more injurious and punitive as opposed to being harmonious and restorative.
Usama bin Laden was the one human being most responsible for a series of terrorist attacks, including the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States — attacks that left more than 3,000 American civilians dead. He claimed such responsibility and pledged future attacks. The death of bin Laden was fully justified as an act of war, but not as an act of justice. The removal of a credible threat to human life — a clear and present danger to human safety — is fully justified, especially after such an individual has demonstrated not only the will, but the means to effect murder on a massive scale.
There are two troubling aspects that linger from that night. The first is the open patriotic celebration in the streets. While we should all be glad that this significant threat is now removed, death in itself is never to be celebrated. Such celebration points to the danger of revenge as a powerful human emotion and revenge has no place among those who honor justice. Retributive justice is sober justice (please read that again) Retributive justice is sober justice. The reason for this is simple — God is capable of vengeance, which is perfectly true to his own righteousness and perfection and as HE has stated multiple times in scripture — but we human beings are not. Furthermore, this type of celebration looks far more like revenge in the eyes of a watching world, and it looks far more like we are simply taking satisfaction in the death of an enemy. In my opinion and historically that type of revenge just produces a greater numbers of enemies.
We tend toward the mismeasure of justice when it comes to settling our own claims. All people of good will should be pleased that bin Laden is no longer a personal threat, and that his death may further weaken terrorist plans but revenge is not a worthy motivation for justice, and celebration in the streets is not a worthy response.
The second, and most troubling aspect, is just part of what it means to live in a world in which true justice is always elusive. Usama bin Laden is dead, but we never had the satisfaction of seeing him arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced. We were robbed of the satisfaction of seeing the evidence against him laid out, and seeing him have to answer the world about his murderous actions and plans. The victims families were robbed. We were robbed of the moral satisfaction that comes by means of a fair and clear verdict, followed by a just and appropriate sentence.
Once again, Christians are reminded of the inherent limitations of justice in a fallen and sinful world. At our very best, we can achieve only a small proportion of adequate justice in our time here on earth. We can convict the murderer and put them to death, but we cannot bring the dead back to life. We can put an end to Usama bin Laden, but we are robbed of the satisfaction of seeing him answer for his crimes.
I have had the chance to discuss this extensively with some people I work with, my wife, and some friends and I [personally] have come to this conclusion. As a Christ – follower we are left with a sense that a higher court is still needed. Everyone knows that Usama bin Laden escaped the [full] reach of full human justice and a trial for his crimes, but we Christ-followers understand he will not escape the judgment that is to come. Bin Laden will not escape his trial before the court of God and judgement therein, but until that time, sober satisfaction must be enough for those still in the land of the living.
** I would love to know your thoughts in the comments below**