The news that Osama Bin Laden was killed by American forces has brought much reaction in the hours following the announcement. No doubt it will bring much more (and even some potentially violent) reaction in the days and weeks to come. But what of our reaction, dear Christians? How should we feel about it all?
First of all, even though I was not expecting the timing, I was not really surprised. The world is a big place, but no one can hide from their fate forever. When Bin Laden took it upon himself to deal out death to the west, to put innocent people in harm’s way, to terrorize nations through attacks on their citizens in their homes … well, He too, I am sure, knew what his fate must one day be.
As our Lord himself said in the quiet evening garden torn by anger and weapons and torches: “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Mat 26:52) When Osama Bin Laden chose to live by the sword, he also chose to die by the sword. Violence can only bring down more violence on those who practice it. But then, one must ask, does this also apply to the soldiers who hunted him down and killed him, or the president who ordered it, and the nation who called for it? Are they not bringing more violence on themselves? Won’t more innocent people die precisely because of this punitive action?
Most likely they are, and they will. Every soldier, every commander in chief, every nation on earth knows that sometimes this is the price they must pay for their neighbour, if peace is to prevail for their citizens and loved ones. It is no crime for a Nation to exercise the use of the sword for the protection her citizens, and the punishment of evil-doers. The nation, the President and the soldiers in question were (and are) doing their God-given duty in protecting others from further harm. Do not think for a moment there would have been less violence if Bin Laden had been left alone to continue his plans.
As we read in Romans 13:1-4 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
Or again, in our own Confessions: For civil government deals with other things than does the Gospel. The civil rulers defend not minds, but bodies and bodily things against manifest injuries, and restrain men with the sword and bodily punishments in order to preserve civil justice and peace. [Augsburg Confession Art. XXVIII:11]
As a Christian I continue to thank God every day for those who place themselves in harm’s way to protect the peace I have been blessed with. As a Christian I pray every day that God would guide the actions of the governments of this world to serve the peace by valuing the life of their citizens and by punishing those who seek only to destroy life. But as a Christian I also know that I can, and must, do what no civil government on earth can do. I can proclaim the true peace that passes all human understanding. The only peace that can change evil once and for all. While the rightful governments of this world protect human lives (even when sometimes this means taking life), it is my privilege to share the only Good News that can bring real and everlasting life to even the blackest of human hearts, or the vilest of cruel regimes.
Violence will forever breed violence … until that violence is swallowed up once and for all. Consider that other man who was hunted by the sword. That man whose words we heard in the garden. He was the target of earthly kingdoms. He was taken out in a night-time raid. Captured in the cloak of darkness. Brought before mock political and military tribunals. His fate sealed long before He stepped into the courtroom. He was a man marked for violence and death. Yet all of it was so that sin and death, violence and atrocity might be swallowed up in His loving sacrifice once and for all. The carnage of sin taken into every last part of His flesh. Righteous punishment meted out on the only truly innocent man who ever walked this earth. The terror of death swallowed up in life. All of the violence and death and bloodshed of this world piercing his soul like a sword … so that the power of the sword might not hold sway over us anymore.
You see, we must all die some day, and the timing of it is rarely expected, whether we end up laying down our life, or someone takes it from us makes little difference in the end. What matters is the reason for which we live that life. The reason for which we are willing to spend it. Those who stand on the front lines are willing to spend their lives for you. Those who spend their life in bringing death and those who spend it protecting life are not the same. But Jesus … well Jesus spent His life for and and for all. And having risen from the dead, He wants to share it will all.
Should we then, as Christians rejoice in the demise of this particular wrong-doer? I leave you with God’s own thoughts on the matter from Ezekiel 18:23 “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? … 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” I will not rejoice but rather continue each day to pray that God who willingly spent His life upon the cross to bring peace and healing to this world might even now use me and you, and all our brothers and sisters in the Holy Christian Church, to call one and all to drop the sword, to give up the pursuit of death and turn and live. But where there are those who will not be moved by His love and mercy I will rejoice that there are those who will live by the sword, and risk their lives for mine … and that God would keep them safe as they do so.