Yesterday, I was asked what I thought about Bin Laden's death.A member of the church wrote.
"I'd love to know your thoughts on Bin Laden's death. I am struggling with it today - celebrating in my mind, but feeling guilty at the same time. This was, after all, a man, whom God loved, and we (USA) have now taken away any possibility there might have been (slim possibility I know) that at some point in the future he might have felt remorse for his actions and turned to God. Is there a point where the needs or interests of the many truly do outweigh the needs of the one? Or is that just a myth?"
Wow, what a great, loaded question. Here is a short, imperfect answer.
Let me start by saying this. I think that celebrating is a natural reaction. But as I look at this, I wonder, are we celebrating his death per se, or all that is wrapped up with that? I think that from my perspective, what we are celebrating is that a major threat has been eliminated, and that justice has taken place. This is a just execution.
What makes it a just execution? Is there such a thing? I think so.
Genesis 9:3-6 teaches that if you take a life, your life is forfeit. Now the Law makes this principle more explicit, differentiating between manslaughter, and murder (Numbers 35 makes a distinctions between - malice aforethought and accidental death without hostility). The bible never condemns capital punishment. Christ never condemned capital punishment. He had ample opportunity to say something on the topic, and he didn’t. In fact, in Luke 23:41, we see that the dying thief says to the other, “we are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong”. Jesus does not say, “no, it doesn’t matter what you did, capital punishment is wrong”. He could have, but he doesn’t.
A passage that may be used by some to say that Jesus is against capital punishment is John 8:1-11. There, a woman caught in adultery is brought to Jesus, and while the Law said she should be stoned, Jesus says, let the person who is without guilt cast the first stone. This whole scene is a setup. The Pharisees are trying to Get Jesus to reject the law of God. He doesn’t do it. Instead, he invites anyone who is sinless to take the first crack. This is not a rejection of capital punishment; just trap avoidance.
When we look at Romans, we see that Human government is ordained by God (Romans 13:1-7). They have the power to tax (6-7), the power to enforce laws (2-3), and the power to punish evil. Romans 13:4 tells us that “If you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer”. In other words, the sword is placed in the hands of the state to administer Justice. Peter adds to this, when he says “Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.” (1Peter 2:13-14)
Now, let’s put all that in the context of killing of Bin Laden's death. Did he take part in murder? The case is pretty clear that he masterminded 9-11, which means he was involved in committing murder. Should we celebrate the death? I don’t think so. I don’t think we should ever celebrate when someone dies. Might he have repented? Might, might, might he have felt remorse for his actions and turned to God? Maybe. I’m not going to pretend that this is not the case. And, while I don’t know that I want to say that there a point where the needs or interests of the many truly do outweigh the needs of the one (although that may well be the case), I think that at a point, the interest of justice does need to be served.
With Bin Laden’s death, justice has been served, and a major threat has been eliminated. It is fair to celebrate that reality: and I think that allot of what is going on is a celebration of the fact that justice was served. It’s like a whole nation is finally getting to celebrate outside the courthouse of justice like a family who lost a son or daughter to murder might celebrate finally feeling the relief of relief knowing that the murderer of their child met justice ten years later. A wrong is not righted, but justice has finally been served.
That’s my thoughts after chewing on them for a bit. In the end, what I feel most of all is sadness. Sadness for the loss of life that’s been caused already. Sadness that we will most likely see more violence. Many Muslims are mouning Bin Laden’s death (ironic- given that somewhere around 90 percent of all Al-Qaeda fatalities have been Muslims (stat from- http://www.congress.org/news/2011/05/02/obama_no_war_against_islam). There is no good end. Just an end. But at least, for a day, we can celebrate justice.