Osama Bin Laden was killed on Sunday. Everyone knows it by now, and most everyone has an opinion about it, and the reaction that ensued. I felt compelled to put together my own observations, but I intentionally waited a day to see what surfaced from other people. Rachel Held Evans, Bruce Nelson, and Darrell Vesterfelt, of Project Awaken, all had opinions that resonated with me. However, I still had questions rattling around in my head, so I spent today trying make sense of the pieces I could see floating to the surface. What I found were three common themes embedded in the fabric of our understanding as a nation that, in my mind, are cause for reflection and concern, not least of all from Christians who are processing these weeks events.
The Myth of Safety and Security
I’ve read and heard from a number of people, “The world is a safer place with Bin Laden gone.” Really? For one, this assumes that safety and security are something that are natural to this world and are only disrupted by evil people doing evil things. I could leave my house tomorrow and have a tree fall on my head or get broadsided by a car. Catastrophe, to some degree, becomes the natural way of things in the world. But even putting that aside, the statement above assumes that evil is a zero sum game.
Kill a bad guy – there’s less evil. Kill all the bad guys – no more evil.
Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Evil and sin are embedded within us all. It’s presence and potential for destruction is more like bailing water out of leaking row-boat in the middle of the ocean. One bucket out, one bucket in. Yes, Bin Laden can’t plot any more attacks, but the vacuum will be filled and disciples are often more zealous than the ones they follow.
The Christian response to this reality is love. Not romantic sentimentality or even occasional acts of charity, but radical, sacrificial, incarnational love that seeks out the dangerous and broken places in the world and invades. Not to over turn and not colonize, but to love. To sit with them and meet their needs, and then hopefully, turn whomever will hear to the love of Jesus. Will this lead to “safety and security”? Nope. But that’s not the point. The hard question I have to answer in this life is how do I respond to evil and hate with love, not how do I stay safe.
The Mask of Justice
Another response that is common among many this week seems to be the cry that, “Justice has been served.” While I’m sure for families who lost loved ones in Bin Laden’s attacks there might be some sense of closure, but closure and justice are not the same thing. Justice is not merely punitive. Justice is restorative for victims in the ways they have been wronged. It values their loss and moves their identities from being victims of a crime to being people who have overcome.
For Christians, justice ought to take the form of mercy. In the face of injustice, whether it is perpetrated by a villain in violence or an unjust economic system, or even individual, relational oppression, I am called alongside those who are suffering to do the hard work of restoring them to dignity regardless of the shape the earthly justice takes. If I have been wronged, it means the hard work of forgiveness, and if it’s someone else whose been wrongs it might well mean giving of ourselves to offer what their perpetrator stole. It requires what we see over and over again in the Psalms – the faith that despite the enemies on all sides, God will ultimately serve as judge and he will do it rightly.
America ≠ the Kingdom of God
I feel like the closer these two come to one another, the more difficult it is to come to a clear perspective on the issue. It might very well be that the powers that be in the United States made the appropriate decision in respect to the interests of the nation. But the interests of the nation and interests of the Kingdom of God may conflict on any number of issues.
The statement that brought this home to me was when I heard someone say, “What this action proves is that no matter how long it takes, if you kill thousands of our brothers and sisters [Americans] we will hunt you down and we will kill you.” It was the reference to our brothers and sisters that caught my attention, because this person is someone who espouses the belief that America is a Christian nation, and yet this is a very unChristian response. Through the years, Christians have watched as thousands of our borthers and sisters have been slaugthered and killed, and yet the response has more often been, “We pray that we have the faith and integrity of character as they did when it is our time to die.”
There have been great myths and systems heaped upon the church in the United States that have muzzled our ability to be true witnesses for Jesus. Myths like that of safety and security, or personal justice all provided by the government, so long as you don’t rock the boat. We have allowed the story of Jesus to be swallowed up by the story of Manifest Destiny and the American dream. We must reject these and other myths for what they are, and realize that in doing so we won’t “Get back the country we once had” but instead will find for the first time we will be on the frindges, ridiculed and perhaps persecuted. It won’t be easy, safe, or just, but we might just all look a little more like Jesus in the process.
I wonder if I can even begin to live up to this calling.