This morning I woke up to a media frenzy. Last Friday’s royal wedding lost its place in the headlines to the news that Osama bin Laden, founder and leader of the extremist organisation al-Qaeda, had been killed by American special forces in Pakistan (and American special forces operating in Pakistan is an issue in its own right…). Everyone and their mother is probably making comments about this news, but I’ll add some words to the mix anyway.
As I anticipated, many of my American friends expressed approval at the news via Facebook. Some of my more conservative friends found a way to both express approval of bin Laden’s death and disapproval of President Obama, instead giving the ‘credit’ for bin Laden’s death to the efforts of Obama’s conservative predecessor, President George W. Bush. From what I’ve gathered from online news sources, many Americans are celebrating bin Laden’s death by cheering in the streets. When I see this I can only think of the deeply saddening celebrations of some Palestinians after the September 11 attacks.
But a different response to bin Laden’s death came from some of my other friends, expressing dissatisfaction with those who are celebrating. I tend to side with this view, a view which I have discovered can be quite scandalous. This whole ordeal brings to mind the execution of Saddam Hussein in 2006. From my journal on 5 November,
Last night I read an article announcing that Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death by hanging after being convicted of crimes against humanity. There is no doubt in my mind that Mr Hussein has committed various atrocities against humanity, but my heart was immediately grieved when I became informed of his death sentence. A good portion of Americans, and perhaps even a majority, probably respond to the situation with a, ‘Thank God, justice is served!’ Oh how badly I want God’s kingdom to come in all of its perfection, justice, peace, and righteousness, yet my heart is burdened by what some call ‘justice’. It is not even that I believe that the Bible itself teaches absolutely against capital punishment (perhaps the following can be seen as a defense of capital punishment: Romans 13:4b – ‘But if you do wrong, be afraid, for [the government] does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.’).
The thought that Mr Hussein did not even stand a fair trial isn’t even the main thrust of why I feel this way. How badly would I want to talk to Mr Hussein. I don’t know if he has any idea how much God loves him, how much I even love him. May God have mercy on us all, for in my opinion, if true justice was served, we all ought to be hanged. I am somewhat sarcastically calling myself ‘the most unpatriotic American’, but there’s truth in part of that. For instance, I don’t want Mr Hussein to die. I know he was the figurehead behind the killing of thousands, but no amount of pain delivered to Mr Hussein will change that fact. What if Saddam Hussein felt remorse? Could we even imagine a dictator, an enemy to the Western world, being reconciled to us? I can, but maybe I am just an idealist living in a fantasy world.
Loving our enemies is one of the most challenging aspects of the Christian life. It’s easy in the modern world to demonise others. In our desire to play an easy us vs them game, we reduce all atrocities of the last century to a short list of names: Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi… The media doesn’t help either:
I’m fairly certain that we’ll be seeing bin Laden’s head on the cover of the next issue of TIME magazine, with a red ‘x’ stretching across his face. Make no mistake, I believe that the September 11 attacks were an incredible tragedy – the actions of al-Qaeda were nothing short of inhuman. But the problem that Christians face in this situation is that we believe that God loves this world. We hold people like St Paul, who was at one point a bigoted murderer, in high regard. We believe that Jesus has been given so that others might inherit the kingdom of God and that it is God’s desire to make his enemies his disciples. Osama bin Laden was flesh and blood. He was created, sustained, and loved by the God who also created, sustains, and loves me. I cannot rejoice in his death.
President Obama said in an announcement last night, ‘Justice has been done.’ I don’t see how ‘an eye for an eye’ is just (though Obama has stated that prominent ‘just war’ theorist Reinhold Niebuhr is his favourite theologian). Ultimately I believe that this sort of thing will persist – institutions will always struggle against one another for power. But I look forward to this:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the death, the first fruits of those who have died. for since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘All things are put in subjection,’ it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.
(1 Corinthians 15:20-28, NRSV; italics mine)
I don’t think there’s really anything else worth saying right now.