On the evening of May 1, President Barack Obama went on national TV to break the news that Osama bin Laden, the face of international terrorism and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, had been killed by American special forces after a 10-year manhunt. Aside from a few relatively minor snags, the operation was executed flawlessly. Few would argue the significance of bin Laden’s demise. While his death may very well inspire terrorists to conduct retaliatory attacks, he will no longer be able to serve as a motivating figure for international terrorism. Furthermore, valuable intelligence was seized in the raid on bin Laden’s Pakistani compound that will undoubtedly prove useful in fighting global terrorism. Lastly, the man’s death was a highly symbolic victory for the U.S. However, as Christians it is difficult, but not impossible, to determine the proper position to take on bin Laden’s death.
There have been two primary responses to bin Laden’s death. The initial response was one of euphoric celebration. Writing for the New York Daily News, Irving Dejohn, Joanna Molloy, Matthew Nestel and John Lauinger describe the scene in New York after Obama’s announcement:
“New Yorkers took to the streets Sunday night, rising up in a passionate chorus of patriotic pride over news that America’s most wanted man was dead. People crowded into Times Square and in the streets around Ground Zero, fists pumping and flags waving.”
However, in the days after the announcement, criticism of the celebrations began to arise. Indeed, my Facebook news feed began to fill with references to Ezekiel 33:11: “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”
The obvious argument was that as Christians we should not rejoice in bin Laden’s death. Some seemed even to question the justness of his death.
Initially, I was torn between the two reactions. I streamed the President’s announcement live from CSPAN and, I have to admit, my initial reaction was one of satisfaction and pride in the excellent work done by the members of Navy SEAL Team Six. Yet, at the same time, I felt guilty about taking pleasure in someone’s death. Upon consideration however, I believe there is a healthy way to look at it.
First, did bin Laden deserve to die? Was his death just? Well, was he responsible for the death of many innocent people? Yes, indeed he was. By any moral measure, bin Laden certainly got what he deserved. Furthermore, reading all of Ezekiel Chapter 33 indicates that, though the Lord desires all to be saved, the wicked will certainly perish if they do not turn from their wicked ways.
Yes, God wanted bin Laden to be saved, and bin Laden could have been saved, despite the gravity of his brutality, had he turned to Christ.
While I can’t say that this didn’t happen, it appears highly unlikely that this was the case. Consequently, from a biblical standpoint, his death was perfectly just.
However, this still does not give us an excuse to rejoice in his death. The real question is, are any of us really better than bin Laden? While we’re quoting scripture, Romans 3:10 says, “There is no one righteous, not even one.”
What, if anything, separates any of us from bin Laden? Jesus says in Matthew 5:21-22: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”
I think we can recognize that bin Laden’s death made the world a better place and that he certainly deserved to die, and I think we can applaud the bravery and skill of the American armed forces involved in the operation. At the same time we can recognize that the death of anyone apart from Christ is tragic.
Yes, bin Laden was a mass murderer and his death was just. This, however, should cause us to consider the true nature of evil. In light of that, we should consider ourselves, lest we too get what we deserve.