American celebrating the Death of Osama Bin Laden on 5/1/11
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you"
Yesterday, we learned that the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001 coordinated attacks on America was killed after a near-decade search. Billions of dollars have been spent in attempts to locate him, neutralize him and the organizations in which he oversees. The news of his death via a sucessful military operation was met with immediate celebration and joy in many parts of the US.
While I, along with many Americans, despise the viciousness and the hatred expressed by Osama and other terrorist organizations, we must wrestle with our responses to his life and his death.
While many Christian columnists speak of this as an act of justice and celebrate his death, I am more cynical and suspicious. I am not cynical regarding whether he is guilty of crimes against humanity or whether his actions caused the death and pain of thousands, not only in the US but around the world. I am cynical, because I sense that the gloating and celebration is not the way of Jesus.
Here are a couple of principles that Jesus teaches us about the Osama's in the world.
1. Mercy triumphs judgement (James 2:13). Throughout Scripture, the people of God are to seek mercy for others because they have received mercy. Its an act of hyprocrisy to ask for mercy for ourselves while pleading for justice for others (Forgive me Lord, but kill them). This is essentially the meaning of the parable of the unmerciful servant (Mt 18:23-35). In the parable, the servant was forgiven his debt but refused to grant the same to others. The result was his unwillingness to forgive (grant mercy) and his insistence of justice towards the people who owed him money, which resulted in a repeal of the mercy that he received and being placed in jail for his own debt.
2. Jesus set up a model where his followers were to love their enemies. (Mt 5:43-45). This is the power of the countercultural Kingdom of God. The weapon has always been love and in love the kingdom conquers. Jesus demonstrated that he was willing to die for others but not kill for others. This is a hard teaching, because our natural reaction to the horror of violence is violence. While the earliest church was clearly devoted to this model, when the church and state became intertwined, the mission of the church became a tool for policies of nations and states. Theories such as "Just-war theory" were developed after Christianity became an official state religion. The radical teaching of Jesus was that enemies were to be loved, no matter how vile. Jesus lived this out by dying on the cross by Roman soldiers while still loving them.(I Peter 2:21-25)
3. Jesus mourns the loss of souls who do not know God.(Mt 9:36, 23:37-38). Christian's acquainted with scripture will know the story of Jonah, who was sent to the wicked nation of Assyria (anthropologic records indicate that they were a cruel nations with massive human rights violations). He is sent with a message of repent (change your ways). When they do, God relents of sending destruction (judgment and justice) due to his mercy. Jonah, like many of us, then gets upset that God has decided to extend mercy instead of judgement. God expresses his heart to Jonah by saying "But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?" (Jonah 4:11).
4. Jesus never saw his followers as a government inacting justice, but as a movement establishing it. Jesus was respectful to an oppressive and dominanting Roman government (Mark 12:17) and had no aspirations to take it over or run it. His focus was on establishing his kingdom that was based upon peace and justice. Justice in this case was established through his death on the cross (retributive justice) and life in the community (distributive justice). His kingdom was to be an alternative to the kingdoms of this world, and their operations. He did not disagree with the need for governments to enact punishment for crimes as much as he was developing an alternative approach to the redemptive violence approach that provided endless cycles of violence.
5. Jesus ministered to both perpetrators and victims of heinous crimes. Jesus himself identified with victims of senseless violence when he hung on the cross, but at the same time offered mercy to the perpetrators of crimes against himself and others (think of the thief hanging on the cross with him). If Jesus ministered to only victims then we would all be damned. Jesus' model of loving others by extending mercy takes in to consideration our own sinfulness was we respond to the pain and viciousness of the sin of others.
In light of this, I believe that Jesus understands the government's role to maintain order through justice, but expects his followers to mourn the loss of a soul who may have never known God. Jesus wants his followers to rejoice in love and peace while despising hate and violence. Our weapon is love, our mode is sacrifice, and our power is the presence of God dwelling within.
I pray that today, we become closer followers of Jesus and instruments of His peace and justice.
May God bless,
Pastor M Traylor