I have reframed from writing on the subject of Osama Ben Laden’s death intentionally so that I could have a little more time to process it all. I find myself torn as to the proper response for one who wears the name of Christ. I have listened to numerous discussions on the subject and have engaged in a few myself. I have watched the news reports beginning with the night it was announced to the world. I have viewed the celebrations from around the country and to a lesser degree, the world and have found myself experiencing some of the same feelings. And I have, of course, have read endless comments posted on facebook. Though most are reposts and few are original I have seen the entire gamut of feelings, expressions and reactions to the killing of the world’s most wanted criminal.
All of this has left me wondering and asking. “How should a follower of Jesus respond to a situation like this?” or even, “How would Jesus himself have responded to the news of Ben Laden’s death?” I am not qualified to answer for Him but I do think there are a few things we are pretty sure of about our Leader.
1. I just can’t see Jesus celebrating in the streets and yelling “USA—USA.” Now, don’t mistake what I am saying. I love America. I am as patriotic as any red blooded American. I believe America is the greatest country in the world. But I don’t believe America occupies the most favored nation status in Jesus’ mind. Because America isn’t even the most Christian nation in the world. South Korea holds that distinction. America can’t even be called a Christian nation any more. Sure, America was founded on the pursuit of religious freedom. But for some time now America has been a Post –Christian nation. In fact, Christianity is the only religion in America that is regularly under attack. So I can’t see Jesus joining in all the euphoric celebration.
2. I also can’t see Jesus celebrating the fact that Osama Ben Laden is now going to “rot in hell,” or some variation of that expression. I have heard and read a number of comments to that affect. We forget so easily that “God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 God wants all people to be saved and for them to spend eternity with Him and when one of them fails to choose His way he does not rejoice, but rather it breaks his heart. As one person wrote, “I’m glad the mission was carried out, and I agree that hell was made for evildoers/those who do not make Jesus the Lord of their life, however I don’t think it’s appropriate to be celebratory about it. I’ll celebrate the fact that I’m not getting what I deserve instead of someone else getting what they do.”
3. This is the part that I have struggled with the most. How exactly should I feel and respond? I have read all the posts that quote, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls…” Proverbs 24:17 and “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” Ezekiel 33:11. As well as the other side of the spectrum, “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy” Proverbs 11:10
Justice has been served, and I am an advocate of justice when someone has been so heartless, ruthless and destructive. I think they have chosen the way of destruction and the end leads to eternal death, not thousands of virgins. That is justice. And there is a part of me that breathes a sigh of relief that he has reaped what he has sown and the wicked one has fallen prey to his own trap. But there is another part of me that tells me that God’s people should be known more for mercy than justice. If we got justice we would all be eternally lost and it is only by the grace and mercy of God that we have any hope at all. Should that not be the spirit that flows from us? Again, I am not in any way advocating that someone like Ben Laden should have escaped justice. I am saying that followers of Jesus should be known more for mercy than justice.
I suppose there are other things that I have been wrestling with and I don’t know if this post has helped sort anything out or just muddied the waters. This I do think we should realize, as much as I love my country and as much as I think America is the greatest country in the world, I believe we are called to be followers of Jesus first and Americans second. And it is easy, in all the hype surrounding an event like this to get caught up in it all. However, I believe this is one of those rare occasions where we, as Christ followers, have a huge opportunity to show a different way to respond to such a world shaking event, a way that will draw people to the Christ we follow before and above the country we love.