One Christian’s Response to the Death of Osama Bin Laden

Osama-Bin-Laden I first heard of Osama Bin Laden's death literally an hour after I finished preaching. I felt then the way I feel now…

Surprised. Heavy-hearted. But, glad. Maybe "relieved" is a better word.

Some of you may think that makes me a Philistine or war-monger. I believe all Christians should choose peace at all times. Sometimes, however, that means defending the helpless from mass-murderers even by killing the mass-murderer if necessary. Yes, I've read Yoder. Yes, I know who Ghandi is. Yes, I'm aware of Jesus' comments to the sword-wielding Peter. And, yes, I've read Love Wins by Rob Bell 😉 However, I also read of how God dealt with Pharaoh through the plagues and Passover, destroyed the earth by Flood, burned Sodom and Gomorrah, commanded a long history of Israelite War, took Ananias and Sapphira, and willed Christ's death on the Cross. I also believe the Bible's picture of Jesus the next time we see Him is not a pacifist picture. All of this is just to say I'm not so sure God is as skittish about death as we like to make him seem these days.

This is not to say God is a war-monger or He wants His people to be. God is a justice-monger. He defends the innocent and oppressed. He often does so through human agency. Just one example would be the story of Naboth's Vineyard and the bloody judgment on Ahab and Jezebel. Sometimes, God even uses human agency outside His own people to exact His will (Romans 13).

Truth is, Osama Bin-Laden hated Jesus and used the life God gave him to murder thousands and to terrorize millions. He would never stop. I believe that if a Christian is in a position to prevent such murdering–they should do so—even if it means it must come to taking the mass-murderer's life in an exchange of fire. If they choose not to, they better have a good reason for why they chose to enable or allow those murders and terrors…especially if they put God's endorsement on it. I know some believe there is always a peaceful way to deal with the Bin Laden's of the world. Those should be tried, but I don't believe there is always a peaceful way to deal with people like Bin Laden. They have no regard for human life or peace. They do death. They do terror. They prey on the weak. They should be stopped.

Sunday night, I followed the tweets and Facebook posts of Christians and paid close attention to Christian leaders in particular. It wasn't the jubilation of Christians that shocked me–though I was admittedly rather shocked at some of the over-the-top stuff. I was surprised far more by a tone of self-righteousness coming from the pacifist camp–though I really don't think they intended to come across that way. Some equated those expressing jubilation at Bin Laden's death with Bin Laden himself. Others quoted passages on loving one's enemies…as though loving one's enemies precludes loving one's non-enemies. Others compared themselves to Bin Laden with a "flat view of sin"–saying essentially, "Bin Laden is no different than all us sinners."

Hmmm…

Everywhere, people scrambled to find proof-texts to support their position (this happened on both sides). So, I'll add my own from 1 Corinthians 13– "Love always protects." Jesus also said, "Greater love has no one than this…that he lay down his life for his friends." It seems to me there is something inherently protective about real love. This makes me wonder if sometimes pacifism is a really loving response to the existence of an Osama Bin-Laden. While I also believe pacifism usually makes for peace, it doesn't all the time. Sometimes, it enables abusers and terrorists at the expense of the weak. In such cases, peace-making may call us to make war against things that war against peace–if only for a season. I'm generally a pacifist. But, in this case, I think (with fear and trembling) we got it right.

I know that some of my best friends and most devoted Christian colleagues will disagree vehemently with me on this on this one. I still have great respect for them and honor their convictions. However, we live in a world that is desperately broken with those who would kill millions if they could. Tonight, while I'm thankful for the Christian tradition of pacifism, (gulp) I'm thankful that everyone isn't a pacifist. Millions may live with less oppression, and thousands may live, period, that wouldn''t have otherwise. I'm OK with that…and I believe God is too.

Go ahead and weigh in. I'd love to hear your thoughts–whatever side of the pacificm/just-war debate you're on.

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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14 thoughts on “One Christian’s Response to the Death of Osama Bin Laden

  1. Tim, you raise a lot of valid complexity. Claiming “Justice was done” is difficult because of that complexity.
    For good or bad, I can compartmentalize the above question from the question of whether Bin Laden (or Charlie Manson or Charlie Whitman or Seung Hui-Cho) should have been forcibly stopped, by deadly force if necessary. The relative innocence of government, military, or law enforcement is not a reason for not taking action to stop more evil. Even when it’s complicated by social injustice, political conflict, or mental issues.

  2. So you’re essentially saying that the example and teachings of Jesus are interesting and worth an intellectual nod but are ultimately impractical?

  3. AMEN, Mark! Wish I could shout Amen so the whole World could hear. Self-Rightous and pretensious is being kind. I will admit that this is a balancing act. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement and not leaving me with a feeling of isolation.
    Richard Pettit

  4. Well, reading my own comment I find it to be a bit overstated. Which is a shame, because I think it’s an important point.
    Shall I try again? I look at that whole situation and feel like it’s overly simplistic to say: “Bin Laden was a bad man, and that’s the only reason he did the things he did.” I don’t have as much problem with the need to see Bin Laden punished as I do with the attitude that says, “The U.S. was completely innocent in this whole matter.” From the provocation and support of the war in Afghanistan back in the 80s (where, as part of which we armed and trained men like Bin Laden) to the manipulation of world events, the U.S. (and other major powers) have a lot of blood/guilt on their hands. Those crying for justice shouldn’t be satisfied until the politicians and military leaders who helped create all of this are also dealt with.
    That won’t happen, of course, which makes the statement “Justice was done” ring more than a bit hollow.
    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  5. It’s worth reading the article “A Tale of Two Fables” http://prospect.org/cs/articles?article=a_tale_of_two_fables, at least the first part where the fables are described. One major problem that I have with the way many American Christians have responded is that they seem to have completely bought into Fable #1.
    In other words, Osama bin Laden was en evil terrorist, while the U.S. is a force for righteousness. The thousands of people killed by Bin Laden were innocents who were unjustly slaughtered. Those killed by U.S. troops are necessary casualties of war. Killing Bin Laden was a service to humanity. Supporting continued killing by the U.S. is a service to humanity.
    If you fully believe Fable #1, justice has been served. If there is any part of it that’s not true, this was more about vengeance than justice.
    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  6. I am so glad I found this – I could not agree with you more. I was quite disheartened and surprised yesterday by how many Christian leaders and friends were trying to beat each other to the punch to see who could quote “Love your enemies” first, who could wag their fingers at other Christians for ‘rejoicing in someone’s death’ first, or who could misquote MLK on facebook first. Though well intentioned, many came off as pretentious and, dare-I-say, self-righteous.
    The huge sense of relief that I felt when I heard the news was absolutely nothing akin to ‘rejoicing in another man’s death.’ I am relieved and happy that someone who murdered and terrorized the innocent can no longer do so. I believe many followers of Christ feel this exact same way. I wish more of our ministers and church members could quietly consider the difficulties and subtleties of issues like this before blogging, facebooking, or tweeting about it so quickly. Yet to each their own.
    Thanks again. We’ve never met, but you have made my day. I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future.
    Former Minister
    Mark

  7. Nice article.
    There is a difference between worldly pacifism and Biblical peace. There is also a difference between reality and fantasy. People need to realize that God put together instruments to take care of people like Obama. While these instruments can do great wrong, they can also do great good-I am speaking of governments.
    Obama is also a lesson of the tremendous evil one person can do. What tremendous good he could have done instead.

  8. Some good thoughts. You should probably remove Jesus from your list of folks like Ananias and the people of Sodom. I know your not trying to compare them. But it came off that way. Hope to see you in Malibu later this week!

  9. I think the pacifism/just war debate is a red herring, a straw man argument for our uncertainty regarding what God wants for his creation. It’s our very limited perspective on a much larger story that God is writing.
    Deitrich Bonhoeffer was a pacifist pastor in the German Confessing Church, the church that stood apart from the National Church who supported Hitler. As long as he possibly could, he stood in a pacifistic stance against Hitler. Let the government do what it will, he said; I choose to pastor.
    A series of moments led him to a place where he faced a moral dilemma–from his perspective, he realized that he must choose the sin of taking one person’s life or face being complicit in the death of many others by failing to do what he could to stop a madman. He could not sleep knowing that he would facilitate murder, and he could not live with himself for having allowed Hitler to run wild.
    I would hope to see and read those same sort of conflicting emotions from Christ-followers now.

  10. Tim,
    Nice post. While I lean toward pacifism, I have no issue with what you’ve posted. It’s not the panacea for everything that is wrong in the world, just like war as proven similarly.