Jesus’ Life and bin Laden’s Death

Unless you’re also holed up in a compound somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan, by now you have heard that US Navy SEALS killed Osama bin Laden in raid late last night.  If anyone ever deserved to be hunted down in such fashion, it was he. But is this news that the people of Jesus should be celebrating? How should we respond to news of such a death–especially as we continue to  celebrate Jesus’ Life in the season of Easter?

I ask because I’m not sure how I feel, really. Part of me is relieved. Part of me is deeply troubled.  I have the same feeling in the pit of my stomach that I had five years ago when Saddam Hussein was hanged. I was at a holiday party when his sentence was carried out, and as the audible cheers went up as the news of his demise came in, my heart sank–even though I knew it was a fitting end to his despotic life.  Likewise, I have known all along that it would come to this for Osama bin Laden.  As much as I might have hoped and prayed for a miraculous softening of this terrorist master-mind’s especially hardened heart, bin Laden’s story was sure to end in death rather than repentance.  Still, is such realism reason to dance in the streets?

We live in a sinful and fallen world.  In such a world, violence is both a a symptom of that sin and, at times, a necessary response to it.  That necessity should be a cause for regret, however, not jubilation. Every strike–regardless of which side the strike comes from, regardless of how justified the strike may be–is yet another continuation of the cycle of violence that has haunted and harried humanity since Cain and Abel.

Jesus taught us how to break that violent cycle: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.  Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5.38-41). In times such as these, we should remember that He gave this teaching for real life, not as trivia for next week’s Sunday School Bible drill.

Exactly how we apply Christ’s lesson to our context is, of course, a matter of ethical and moral debate–a debate I hope we will have in earnest in the coming days.  Martin Luther King, Jr. made “turn the other cheek” the foundation of his struggle with racism.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer concluded that he could not abide by it in his struggle against Nazism.  Yet neither man affirmed or set aside Christ’s teaching lightly.  Neither should we.  Serious consequences lie down both paths. We can argue about what Christ meant by His words; we cannot deny that they are His words.  We can weigh them; we cannot ignore them.  If we are to be faithful to Him as our Lord, His teachings must guide us.  Always.

And as we debate, we should also remember that many in the Muslim world were dancing in the streets when the Towers came down. However we decide to apply Christ’s difficult teaching to the difficult realities of this life, I think we should be wary of getting caught up in a celebratory dance-off with our enemies.  In the end, it’s sure to be a contest that everyone will lose.

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3 Comments

  1. Gigi Schwartz

     /  May 3, 2011

    thank you for writing this. I saw it on my sister’s facebook page and I shared it will all my friends.

    Reply
    • You’re welcome, Gigi. Thanks for taking the time to comment–and to share my piece with your friends. I appreciate it.

      Reply
  2. dale hughes

     /  May 10, 2011

    Todd:

    Surprise, Surprise- the Navy seal executed Bin Laden. He was unarmed. I believe that fits the meaning of the commandment thou shalt not kill (murder)- in this case one in the same. Seals are highly trained professional killers. This one lived to his credo. In my view, improperly. That’s all I have to say.

    Reply

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