Like most people, Osama bin Laden’s death and the subsequent behaviors of people have left me with more words than I can ever write or say. Our opinions are so strong, so inflexibly rigid and unbreakable, that we forget we are clay in the Potter’s hands, and that we need to be pliable for Him to work with us and through us. I understand that this applies to me, too.
The response of many Christians has me bothered the most. To see footage of people rejoicing over the death of a soul that never knew the saving grace of Jesus Christ is appalling to me. Yes, he did and planned harmful events that have claimed many lives and injured countless more. Yet he was only doing what he believed was right—just like we do.
A friend posted an excerpt from Romans this morning that really got me thinking about how proof-texting is so common when referring to Scripture. We seek the words that will support our foundational beliefs, cementing our feet so as not to be changed, even by God. Our hearts seek words of evidence of our rightness, not of spiritual conviction; we read to further our impermeable mindsets, not to be molded into God’s image. The passage that finally got me was Romans 13:1-4:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. (NIV)
But we have to recognize that the authority is God-given, not human-given. Besides, if bin Laden were an authority (which he was), Romans 13 indicates that his authority had been established by God. Who are we to assassinate a leader that God has placed in authority? Romans 13 doesn’t address “good” or “bad” authority—just authority in general. God did not take out His vengeance on Egypt’s horrendous Hebrew slavery for four hundred years. In other words, God used an oppressive ruler to make His people grow to know Him and love Him more and better. Can Al Qaida and bin Laden be the same for us?
Personally, I am against violence. Jesus Himself stated, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-44, NIV). James echoes this by saying that we should “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:12-13, NIV). I, myself, cannot envision any circumstance under which killing my enemy would be considered a loving act. If you are willing to love your friends and family by killing them, then I can accept your opinion about war and violence. But if you cannot readily say that you would not kill your enemy, you are contradicting the teachings of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Like most of us, my opinion hasn’t changed over all the debate. Though a misattributed quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., has been circulating the internet debates, I found some expressions that were from a sermon he preached:
“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.”
I believe that Jesus did not rejoice over the death of a lost soul. I believe that executing an unarmed man, leader or not, in his home after his family had been “evacuated” is nothing less than terrorism. If Obama had been killed, it would be an assassination; but since it’s bin Laden, it’s a victorious avenging execution. We set such double standards so often that we don’t realize that our occupation of Iraq looks exactly like the occupation of France under Germany in World War II. We are terrorists, too. The ones we kill are not evil; they are doing what they think is right—just like we are. We’re just on two sides of the same coin. And currently the coin is being flipped in a big way.
It all comes down to what you believe Jesus said. If you believe He said “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” then joy over bin Laden’s death is unbiblical and sinful. If you believe that the one time someone tried to defend Jesus via violence (Peter cutting off Malchus’ ear) Jesus rebuked him (John 18:10), then rejoicing is appalling.
There are myriad other non-violent instructions from the mouth of God:
- “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Matthew 5:39)
- “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.” (Luke 6:29)
And then there’s always the kickers:
- “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Jesus, Matthew 7:12)
- “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Jesus, Luke 6:31)
- “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17)
Are you able to look at someone and say, “I lovingly kill you in the name of the Almighty God and His Son, Jesus Christ”? Jesus was all and only about love. He wept over the state of His people in Jerusalem. But He never carried a weapon; He supported the government by paying taxes; He did not revolt against the Roman Empire; He turned His other cheek numerous times; He loved the unlovable; He even prayed from the cross for His murderers. If we are to be Christ-like, how can we endorse anything but loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us, even as they are in the very act of persecuting us?
As a side note, most Americans are wary of anything that might steal their freedom. But freedom is not a biblical right. When Paul was writing his letters, he addressed masters and slaves—obviously the slaves weren’t free just because they were Christians. We tend to behave as if we think that the people of the USA are the chosen ones of God, because we are free. But perhaps that’s Satan’s biggest lie of all—that we have a biblical right to freedom. But the only freedom we are promised is freedom from the burden of sin. The USA won’t be a superpower forever—someday we’ll be taken down. What will we think about God then?
John M. Perkins is a civil rights activist who has been involved in innumerable non-violent demonstrations since the 1960s. Despite the torture he went through, his theology is that of God: LOVE. And not just love for the oppressed, but for the oppressors. Love is Kant’s Categorical Imperative. If we all loved each other (without guns or bombs), there would be peace. But unless we can love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, we will continue the cycle of escalating violence.
“John Perkins said it right/Love is the final fight” (Switchfoot, “The Sound”).