Monday, May 2, 2011

Reflections on bin Laden's Death: Whose Death Brings Justice?

In the preface of N.T. Wright’s, Evil and the Justice of God, he reflects on September 11, 2001 and writes:

“The problem of evil” is not something we will “solve” in the present world, and that our task is not so much to give answers to impossible philosophical questions as to bring signs of God’s new world to birth on the basis of Jesus’ death and in the power of his Spirit, even in the midst of the “present evil age” (11).
This past Easter my wife and I brought home our two babies for the first time, Holy Week disrupted with the sacred arrival of two beautiful new lives. That being said, the Christian drama that unfolds each spring, while celebrated in our own way, did take a sort of back seat to the holy chaos and buzz that moved throughout our home. It was easy for me to move away from the new life found in the resurrection of Jesus because I had just witnessed new lives come into our world on Maundy Thursday.

And then there was last night.

As I watched the Phillies head to extra innings against the Mets, the broadcast was interrupted by the news that Osama bin Laden had been captured and killed. And our President announced that justice had come. Citizens Bank Park moved from a pitcher’s duel to a nationalistic celebration that transcended athletic allegiances. Celebrations were held in front of the White House.  Facebook was flooded with reactionary comments that rejoiced and found hope in the death of the leader of al Qaeda.  Even Christians claimed victory through the actions of our military.

And I wept.

I was torn by feelings of relief and questions about what is next. Does this really bring closure? Are we really now safer? Has justice really come? Is this really justice or vengeance? Am I to find hope in this news? Has it really been 10 years since 9/11? What does this mean for my two children and their future safety? What does this mean for the church, for Christians? How am I to hear Obama’s address in light of the gospel and Easter narrative? What should be my response to my neighbors, to include my Muslim neighbors?

This is neither the time nor the place to launch an unfiltered discourse in regards to my reactions, opinions, or political inclinations about the historical event that was last night. However, I do wonder, have we so quickly forgotten the event of Good Friday and the vocation of Jesus’ death that was God’s act of justice for us and the whole world. Again, Jesus’ death was God’s incarnation and subversive act of justice…and nothing or no one else. So, with the liturgy of the stars and stripes flooding twitter feeds, nationalistic shouts of Hosanna streaming through facebook statuses, and endless blogs, to include mine, reacting to the abrupt news of May 1, 2011, I pray that I would meditate on the words of Jesus, who lived in love, died as an act of justice, and rose from the grave as a foreshadow of the new creation and deliverance that is both already here and yet to come- for us and the whole world. And may we “bring signs of God’s new world” this day… especially this day.


"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-12)

 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43 - 6:1)

Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:41)

Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. (Matthew 26:52)

Then he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:16-21)

He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial." (Luke 11:2-4)

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. (Luke 19:41-42)

Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

He is the image of God, the invisible one,
the firstborn of all creation.
For in him all things were created,
in the heavens and here on earth.
Things we can see and things we cannot,
-thrones and lordships and rulers and powers-
All were created both through him and for him.

And he is ahead, prior to all else
and in him all things hold together;
And he himself is supreme, the head
over the body, the church.

He is the start of it all,
firstborn from realms of the dead;
so in all things he might be the chief.
For in him all the Fullness was glad to dwell
and through him to reconcile all to himself,
making peace through the blood of his cross,
through him– yes, things on earth,
and also the things in the heavens.
(Colossians 1:15-20)

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  1. Well said Greg. Too bad more people don't read the New Testament!

  2. I agree, well said Greg. While this is a day that our country has been waiting for, it is also a sad day. It's hard to rejoice while it is also hard to not rejoice. As you wrote, what does this mean for your two children and their safety? I pray for those Navy Seals who were a part of the mission and how this will affect their lives. I'm also very thankful for them since their heroism has saved so many lives. I'm proud of our military and very thankful for the men and women who serve so that we may live in freedom. Most of all, I am proud to be a Christian, and I pray for our nation as well as every other nations, that they will come to know Jesus Christ.

  3. Well said, Greg. I see it a bit differently, but I do appreciate your position.

    You hinted at what is the philosophical and theological basis for my position with the phrase "...the new creation and deliverance that is both already here and yet to come...".

    If you're interested, check out:

  4. thanks for the feedback. Mike, your post reminded me of what I shared with my high school students last night in regards to Bonhoeffer's failed assasination. He considered this plot not something to rejoice over, rather the lesser of evils in which he was willing to endure for the sake of others, even if it meant his own demise (a la Paul's willingness to be cut off from Christ for the sake of his fellow Jews). Regardless, my major struggle is not with the presidential remarks, although they are concerning, but the confusion of nationalistic zeal and vindication with Christian convictions about what really, or WHO really, brings justice and the elaborate rejoicing over the death of an individual, no matter how evil he and his actions were. Moreover, even though bin Laden is dead, we have not solved anything. To believe otherwise is a naive myth... Our culture is increasingly blood thirsty, and this mkaes even the commitments to Christian nonviolence difficult and subversive...

  5. I've spoken to many "good" people who feel conflicted about their feelings regarding the death of bin Laden. I believe feelings are neither right or wrong, good or evil. Feelings are what they are, and should be acknowledged as such. While I'm grateful to the Seals for what they did and I realize many innocent lives are saved because of the death of one man, I cannot bring myself to "rejoice" or "celebrate." I simply acknowledge my conflicted feelings and move on with a prayerful attitude, trying to do the best I can in this world as I move forward while the words of Jesus resonate in my heart, "And I wept."