Just to give you an idea of where I am coming from, my first thought on the killing of Osama Bin Laden was not a statement, but a question.
How should a Christian respond to the news of Osama Bin Laden's death?Apparently, I was not the only one to be contemplating that very topic. Huffington Post had a piece on the subject. Baptist Press collected thoughts from missionaries serving in Muslim areas and Baptist ethicists here in America. Christianity Today had a column from a Christian professor of Muslim Studies and a collection of the Bible verses referenced most often on social media sites directly following the announcement.
After my own contemplation of Bin Laden's death and my discussion of it with Christians of varying persuasions, the only sure conclusion I've come to as far as how to balance God's love and justice in terms of our response to Bin Laden's death is that Christians must focus on the one point in history when love and justice were intermingled, where wrath and grace were on display together - the cross of Christ.
|Photo from Sxc.hu by Dimitri Castrique|
I believe all of those are pictured for us because all of them are legitimate expressions. They are acceptable as visceral, emotional reactions to the news we receive, but that does not mean they are acceptable as considered, thoughtful responses. At some point, we must move beyond what we are feeling to what we should be believing.
So where does the Christian turn to find a unifying concept for the ideas of love and justice? The cross.
At the cross, Scripture teaches that God the Son took upon Himself our sins. He displayed ultimate love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. That is love. There is no greater love. God is love.
At the cross, Scripture teaches that God the Father poured out His wrath on our sin. Being perfect, He turned His back on His Son who had become sin for us. That is justice. There is no greater justice. God is just.
The Christian who discusses the death of Bin Laden or any similar event without the context of the cross misses the entire context. The one who only focuses on love or justice does not truly understand either. They are complimentary rather than contradictory.
Those that spend all their time rejoice over justice being served have actually moved beyond justice into revenge. There is a key, pivotal difference. Justice is only thankful that the goal has been accomplished. Revenge is concerned about celebrating the punishment. Justice accomplishes the work. Revenge gloats over it.
I spent so much time yesterday discussing the pitfalls of this misunderstanding because this is the context I find myself in the most. This is the temptation I have more often. Most people I know, myself included, are not tempted to let criminals get away without punishment. We are tempted to take joy in their pain.
My friends and family, my Twitter followers and Facebook friends are mainly conservative and passionate about America. Our gut reaction may be to scream, "Shoot Osama. Wrap his body in bacon and pig fat and put it on display for all to see. Then turn the entire Middle East into a sheet of glass. USA! USA!" Because of this tendency, we need to be constantly reminded of God's love for all mankind and the role it plays it this and similar situations.
Much of the issues come from a misunderstanding of hell and how one ends up there. Osama Bin Laden is not in hell because he is responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people. He is in hell for the same reason anyone else is - he rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it should be hard for us to completely focus on the sins of Bin Laden, when our sins are just as unforgiven and worthy of hell without the gift of salvation from Christ.
It's a bit ironic that many of the same people who were so attracted to Rob Bell and his "cool Christianity" that gets rid of Hell and the like suddenly recognize the need and value of having a doctrine of Hell. Sure, Bell can try to make a point using Gandhi, but I don't see him recording a video that opens with him saying: "So, Osama Bin Laden's in Hell. Really? You can know this for certain." Clearly, this would not quite have the same cultural cache.
Those like Bell and others go the opposite route and focus exclusively on love, ignoring the reality of God's justice. Love cannot be expressed without some context. Justice provides that context.
Christianity, in my opinion, supports just war, the death penalty and assassinations of individuals like Bin Laden not in spite of its commitment to the value of human life, but because of it. Human life is extremely valuable to God and as such when you take innocent life you face the stiffest possible punishment.
Those who simple ignore justice actually demean the value of human life. Their refusal to deal harshly with the perpetrator reveals a lack of recognition of the value of the victims.
Emptying hell or death row based on a twisted understanding of God's love, does so to the detriment of God's justice and His love. We need a way to fully see those two together. Again, the cross is the answer.
Contemplating all this, I was reminded of the song Sweetly Broken, which opens:
To the cross I look, to the cross I clingBin Laden received the earthly punishment he deserved based on his actions. He has also begun his eternal punishment he deserved based on his rejection of Christ. I can look to the cross and see just how much God hates sin.
Of its suffering I do drink
Of its work I do sing
For on it my Savior both bruised and crushed
Showed that God is love
And God is just
I do not receive all the earthly punishments I deserve based on my actions. I will never see the eternal punishment I deserve and that is based solely on my accepting Christ's offer. I can look to the cross and see just how much God loves sinners.
No matter how good we think we have been, apart from our recognition of our sin and our acknowledging that we need Jesus to be our Savior, the cross says we deserve hell. No matter how bad we think we have been, if we place our trust in the free offer of grace, the cross says we receive heaven.
I can praise God both for His love of Osama Bin Laden and His execution of judgement on Him. The cross says I can.