The dilemma of justice & grace: thoughts on Osama’s death.

If you have not heard of the recent killing of Osama Bin Laden (OBL), then you must be hiding in some place without internet or phone lines! It’s everywhere; it’s even on ESPN! This coverage has brought a lot of attention to OBL, and perhaps in many ways the media has contributed to not only showing that justice and power has been meted out by the US, but may also for others paint him as a martyr for a cause. This latter thought scares me so much that as one leader is removed two heads to continue his violence may spring in his place like the mythological hydra. Ultimately that leads to more of a political science route with those questions, but today, I am not here to examine those questions, but to share personally some reflections about OBL’s death. Personally, the death of OBL has generated mixed feelings and feels anti-climactic after all this time. A question that I began to ponder after hearing about his death was this question:

How do we consider the news of OBL’s death in light of the Gospel?

I have read a ton of blogs and newspaper articles both secular and X-ian regarding justice, grace, and understanding the death of OBL, and I believe that many of these blogs have provided excellent wisdom and thoughts on this. Still, I think the question needs to be personally processed in my own mind and how I am to understand the Gospel in light of this person’s death. So bear with me as I explore this with you and consider the question: How do we consider the news of OBL’s death in light of the Gospel?

I found that these following quotes harmonizing with my heart’s thoughts:

“I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” –Jessica Dovey

“Are we seeking power for power’s sake? Or are we seeking to make the world and our nation better places to live. If we seek the latter, violence can never provide the answer. The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

I was looking at the pictures of Americans celebrating with their US flags, and though I was in part filled with joy at justice and closure for people who lost loved ones in the military and in 9-11, a part of me felt like this was no different from pictures that I have seen in the news where people from other countries were celebrating acts of violence or terrorism. A part of me is burdened because rather than giving me joy, I know that we are celebrating a death of a person made in God’s image, who though plotted the death and was a murderer… is a broken, imperfect sinful man like you and I. Now, I’m not saying your actions are on par with OBL’s, but I believe that as a Christian, we need to realize that the corruption of sin in our lives separates us from God just as much as OBL’s sin separates Him from the Lord. In Love in Hard Places, DA Carson wrote:

“Therefore, in the present struggle, even while we must try to prevent the terrorists from doing more violence, we must eschew a vendetta mentality. Love demands that we do not demonize Osama bin Laden. He is a human being made in the image of God. He is an evil man, and he must be stopped, but he is a man, and we should take no pleasure in destroying him. Vengeance is the Lord’s alone. Do not offer the alternative, “Should we weep for Osama bin Laden or hold him to account for his genocide and prevent him from carrying out his violent intentions?” The right answer is yes.” – DA Carson

Not only are we celebrating the death of a person, but I truly believe that as the above quote infers, hate begets hate, and violence begets violence. This cycle does not end with OBL’s death; our celebration is NOT the final resolution to sin and violence in this world. Today and tomorrow, countless more acts of sin and violence will occur and there will still be an overwhelming amount of brokenness in our world… some of which I will contribute to as well. So I mourn my exceeding sinfulness and humanity’s as well, and long for the days of consummation as mentioned in Revelation. The fact that daily many people will pass on from this life like OBL, and not know personally the saving grace of Jesus Christ breaks my heart. It leaves me extremely sad in these times because how can we rejoice in light of a person going to hell?!

Yet in my sadness, a sense of peace also rests where I see justice being done where the sense of fairness and rightness seems to be upheld in light of what OBL did and the pain he has caused many people in light of his beliefs and the violence which he promoted. It is an element of peace at seeing that someone has paid for their sin and justice has been paid for all the pain/hurt caused, but truthfully, that peace is not a true sense of peace. It is more of a satisfaction of seeing justice upheld. A friend shared his thoughts about this:

“There are many in our nation celebrating the ‘justice’ served yesterday. I believe they are right in doing so. If you do not take some measure of delight in justice being served, then your conscience is calloused and diseased. However, it is imperative to consider the consequences of the reality we celebrate. As that bullet ended the life of Osama Bin Laden, he entered into an eternal existence of torment–day and night–without rest… FOREVER. If you take some measure of delight in this, then your conscience is entirely calloused and diseased. Venture so far as to imagine the imaginable horrors of Hell. Only then will you truly begin to understand what it means to love mercy. Stand with Isaiah in the threshold of the temple, beholding the holiness and infinite worth of God. Only then will you truly learn to execute justice. These are the two polar realities we see fused together in the cross; the blazing center of God’s glory. May the death of Osama Bin Laden provoke us to turn away from the lesser pleasures, in which we are currently seeking pleasure, so that we may lay hold of Christ, take up our cross, to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk HUMBLY with our God (Micah 6:8).” – Sam Musgrave.

I think Sam raises a good question regarding that dilemma between both mourning and rejoicing in the justice being served. I think this is why I posed this question in the beginning. How do I rejoice and how do I mourn in light of what I have heard regarding OBL’s death? It is in light of Christ that we must consider these things, but I will explain this further in a bit.

I think as Christians we all are faced with this dilemma as we talk with our classmates, our co-workers, our family members who may not be Christian. If we rejoice, people may interpret it as Christians being haters as usual. If we mourn, then others may see it as we are condoning OBL’s actions and how we don’t care about those that have died. This is why I posed this question. It was during these thoughts, I was led to a story in the Old Testament about David and his son Absalom.

In 2nd Samuel chapters 13 through 14, the story is about how Absalom kills his brother from another mother, Amnon, for raping Absalom’s full-sister, Tamar. Amnon, the oldest son of David, is not punished by David due to his love for his eldest, and this lack of justice ends a few years later with Absalom’s planned murder of Amnon. Rather than punishing Absalom or reaching out to bring it to a close/resolution, David again does nothing because he loved Absalom as well. Joab, a military advisor and relative of David, takes the matter into his own hands to see some action and sends a wise woman to talk to David. This woman shares a story of her dilemma regarding being a widow and having two sons that fought and one killing the other.

The issue then is that if justice is shown, the son must be killed, which would leave the mother without a male heir to support her and further the deceased husband’s name. This dilemma then brings up the issue of having to be both just and merciful. What is David to do then? David advises the woman that her son is to be allowed to live and this act of grace is to help her. Unfortunately, the wise woman reveals that this dilemma is tied to David’s story and his dealing with Absalom! What ends up happening then is Absalom is allowed to return home, but David fails to see him for two years until Absalom gets David’s attention by burning Joab’s field. Though David responds by meeting Absalom and kissing him, this leads to the following conspiracy of Absalom as he takes over his father’s throne in the following chapter.

David as the pinnacle of an example of a king is unable to figure out this dilemma of dealing with justice and graciousness. To be just, he would have to kill his son, but in two situations he fails to and the result is later seen with Absalom’s uprising. To be gracious, he would forgive his son, and the sin and actions are unpaid for. In both ways, a sense of incompleteness and unfinished business leaves an unsatisfactory tension like a paradox.

This brings me back to my original question then about: how is one to consider OBL’s death in light of the Gospel? I share this story because I think that my feelings of both a sense of the justice, mourning and wanting to show grace are stuck like David was. To be completely just, action must be taken and the perpetrator must be punished. To be completely gracious, we must offer complete love and forgiveness however undeserved, and a sense of the perpetrator’s lack of punishment can taint everything. So what do we do? I think this shows just how humanity is unable to be both just and to show love in such circumstances. This imperfection though as my brother, Sam, pointed out culminates and finds its paradox ended in the cross of Jesus Christ.

You see, the Gospel brings about completeness to this which we otherwise would be unable to fulfill or figure out. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ symbolized and shown by the imagery of the cross sits in this perfect tension of both perfect justice and perfect grace (that is love) and accomplishes both. Through Christ both God and man, God has dished out his perfect justice on Jesus who has borne all of our sins past, present and future; he did not even have one sin for his part but took upon himself all our sins from the past, the present and the future. At the same time with his death and his resurrection, our sins are taken from us and atoned for by his blood and sacrifice. This perfect grace then that is extended to us, which offers us completeness before God is manifested through God’s plan and work of sending His Son Christ. The tension and paradox is resolved and accomplished in Christ.

How wonderful is that thought? That in light of my inability to be just and gracious to OBL, Christ through His work accomplishes it?! This is the power of the Gospel in which we believe that offers not only a solution but a resolution to this dilemma.


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