Christians are already beginning to weigh in on the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Not surprisingly, Justin Taylor has a quick roundup of the first couple of internet volleys–both of which are very good. I’m sure there is more serious reflection to come. But since I’m a blogger, I’ll do what bloggers do, and that’s add my thoughts to the mix.

There are really two questions to answer: 1) Did Osama bin Laden deserve to die? 2) Did those who killed him have authority to do so? I believe the answer to both those questions is yes. Consequently, his death was a matter of justice for which we can be grateful.

1. Did Osama bin Laden deserve to die? Genesis 9:6 suggests he did: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” Capital punishment for murder is not an assault on the image of God, but a defense of it.  It is because human life is so precious, that the taking of human life needs to be punished so severely. The principle of “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, wound for wound” (Exod. 21:23-25) was not a matter cruel and unusual punishment, but of controlled retribution as a means of protecting the community and valuing the dignity of human life.

At this point, some earnest Christian will object, “But we will all deserve to die. If God should mark my iniquities, I would be a goner too.” The objection makes sense on one level. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). And yet, even with this doctrine of total depravity the Bible never acts as if everyone deserves to die physically right now. Some have deserved immediate death, so God killed Nadab and Abihu and struck down Uzzah and inflicted judgment on the Egyptians, Amorites, Canaanites, Israelites, Assyrians, and Babylonians. We all deserve condemnation apart from God’s grace, but some deserve death now because some sins are worse than others and some sinners commit more egregious sins.

It is one of the half-truths of our day that every sin is the same in God’s eyes. On the one hand, every sin renders us liable to God’s judgment (James 2:10). On the other hand, not every bit of iniquity is equally offensive. Some sins are high-handed. Some are premeditated. Some are slip ups. Some are habitual. Some are contrary to nature. The Law did not demand the same penalty for every infraction. Neither did Jesus (Matt. 10:15). We do not promote the glory of the gospel by pretending that no one is more righteous or more wicked than anybody else. Some sins so destroy the image of God that those who commit them deserve destruction.

2. Did those who killed Osama bin Laden have the authority to do so? Only God has the authority to take human life. But God has ordained that he should exercise that right through the power of the state. Romans 13:4 says the governing authorities are God’s servants to do 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.” The Navy SEALs that raided bin Laden’s compound did not violate the sixth commandment because, as the Heidelberg Catechism says, “Prevention of murder is also why government is armed with the sword” (Q/A 105). Surely, this was an instance where the U.S. military, by killing bin Laden, was acting in an effort to prevent more American citizens from being murdered.

Obviously, Jesus condemned private retaliation, vigilante justice, and hatred (Matt. 5:38-48). But there is no indication the Gospels mean to overturn the centuries long Jewish understanding that some warfare was justified. When soldiers asked John the Baptist what they needed to do to repent, he could have easily said, “Resign from the evil Roman army.  You can’t be a soldier and a part of the new people of God.”  But instead he said, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14). Jesus went so far as to hold up a Centurion as a model of faith (Luke 7:6). It reminds me of G.K. Chesterton’s quip: “There is nothing that throws any particular light on Christ’s attitude toward organized warfare, except that he seems to be rather fond of Roman soldiers.”

In the end, though there are mixed emotions from last night’s announcement, at least one of the attitudes should be thankfulness for the bravery of the men who, with proper authority in a just cause, killed a man who deserved to die. I thought President Obama’s remarks last night struck the right tone. There was a sense of gratitude without gloating. The dominant theme was justice. In our every day lives in this squishy pomo world, we have a hard time with justice. As a nation we feel sorry for people better than we feel joy over justice. But sometimes we need to be reminded that we live in a moral universe where actions have consequences. And when deathly consequences are merited by despicable actions, we should be glad the world is working as God designed.

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66 thoughts on “Osama bin Laden and the Value of Justice”

  1. Bruce S says:

    Greg Long:
    “We’re not talking about every government action; we’re talking about this specific action. It just seems obvious to me, to most Christians, and even to most Americans that this was a perfect example of a government justly bearing the sword to punish an obvious evildoer who killed almost 3000 Americans.”

    “a government justly bearing the sword”. Which government, and where?

  2. Greg Long says:

    Bruce,

    Uhhh…the American government, the government of the same country that suffered an unprovoked attack on its own shores at the hands of this evil man.

  3. Bruce S says:

    Greg
    So is it OK for a government to “justly” bear the sword in the territory of another government?

  4. Phillip Block says:

    Reading this blog entry and others like it, as a believer coming from the Reformed tradition, adds to my great concern for the people of the United States, and the people who identify themselves as ‘Evangelical’ here. Partly this concern is historical – the widespread ignorance concerning the falsehoods and mainstream media spin stemming from the entire 9/11 national mythology. OBL is the most fantastical patsy ever devised by modern media and state collusion. In spite of the fact that numerous heads of state, former intelligence officers, and whistleblowers have stated unequivocally that OBL has been dead for years, I’m willing to follow the claim, for the moment, that Bin Laden was taken out in the manner stated. But ultimately it is the looming unanswered questions from the past thirty years that leave us on thin ice here. It is amazing that so many good-hearted Christians have fallen for the ongoing and haphazard set of fabrications (see documentary “Fabled Enemies” by Jason Bermas, or read The War On Truth, by Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed). Partly the concern relates to the implications of this assassination, if it did in fact occur. We have a crack special forces team violating the territory of a sovereign nation to break into someone’s home, beat-up then blow away the living source of the world’s biggest keeper of secrets regarding the world’s supposedly most massive terrorist event. The ‘suspect’ was unarmed, walking with a cane and otherwise decrepit. It would have been equally simple for this highly trained team to simply whisk him away to be properly interrogated (not water boarded), then put on trial. So much for setting a better, more constitutional , more democratic example. Even Saddam was afforded some semblance of a kangaroo court over in the nearby debacle known as Iraq. I say ‘trial’ because according the FBI’s own website, and according to its own spokesperson (Rex Toomb), “there isn’t enough hard evidence to link him (Bin Laden) to 9/11″. In 2001 then Secretary of State Colin Powell promised the world on mainstream news that he would produce a “white paper” proving beyond a shadow of doubt the guilt of Osama. This of course was never produced. Moreover it has never been properly explained to the world, or to the military officers who brought attention to it why Bin Laden and around 1000 Taliban soldiers were entirely surrounded at the caves of Tora Bora, then allowed to escape as a result of higher orders, under full view of spy surveillance satellites. More recently we learn that Libyan “freedom fighters”, armed and directed by our own intelligence agencies in attempt to illegally overthrow yet another Islamic nation, and reliable sources indicate that many of them are al Qaeda veterans or affiliates, including a prisoner released from Gitmo. This hypocrisy would almost be shocking, except that there are other earlier incidents where this kind of ‘Arab Foreign Legion’ collaboration occurred, including in and around Kosovo during the Balkan crisis.
    Finally, the macabre ending to this farce of a narrative: the stated reason for dumping the OBL’s body so hastily in the ocean was ultimately to prevent “blowback”. As if pre-emptively invading and occupying two sovereign nations at the cost over a million unnecessary deaths, then repeatedly violating the territorial space of two others (Pakistan & Libya) with covert ground operators and drone missile launchers IS NOT enough to cause any resentment or ‘blowback’?

    It might almost be understandable why an average U.S. citizen would be suckered into supporting this grandiose imperial neo-con, proto-fascist, statist juggernaut as a result of unending corporate-military controlled propaganda. But the true follower and disciple of Jesus Christ does not have this excuse. “No man can serve two masters”. We are called to take up our cross and follow Him; not mammon, not the idolatry of earthly imperial power. The Old Testament scriptures that showcase Israelite justice, though pertinent, are to be always viewed through the prism of Jesus himself, through the Gospels. Not all who say, “Lord, Lord” will enter his kingdom. The master said, “Love your enemies”. Period. No deliberating or waffling, or excuse making. We here in the West have loved our power and our wealth and the accoutrements of our civilization more than we have loved Him, the almighty who sacrificed himself on a cross (imperial Roman torture device) for the “least of these”. We have lied, cheated, become complicit in theft, and then we deny our very substantial greed and our ultimate faith in militarism. “In God We Trust”, becomes for the American Evangelical the most putrid hypocrisy of all. The U.S., largely with the complicity of the evangelical movement, has outspent the rest of the entire world combined in military concerns; so much so that it has bankrupted itself in debt, doubling its deficit since the mirage- like mythology of 9/11 was fabricated now ten years ago. And by the way, Romans 13 is THE most misinterpreted or manipulated segment of the New Testament here in the Western world – let it be known that the greek word for sword happens to be “macheira”, a symbol of judicial authority. It is not a weapon of offense. “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first”. You hypocrites! First take the log out of your own eye before demanding the speck out of your neighbor’s…

  5. Bob Hart says:

    What is important in this case of Bin Laden “shedding blood.” He was accused of “Masterminding” many incidents, and bragged about doing so. But did he actually “pull the trigger?” Was that witnessed?” Or was he “The Boogiman?” Now the “Boogiman” is dead. Who will be the next “Boogiman?”

    If this will stop the nonsense in the Middle East then it is fine that it happened, but it won’t stop what is going on, because “we” as a country think we have a “right” to do what it is we are doing. Both Republican and Democrat, Christian and Non-Christian. In the two wars we are involved in in the Middle East, we have “killed more civilians” than Bin Laden did. And I have not been there, but if I am correct and Bin Laden was not seen pulling the trigger, or strapping on a “bomb vest” then I am as guilty as he was.

    WOW!!! What a thought!

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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