My reaction to the death of Usama bin Laden was one of instant gratification and gratitude. Clearly, bin Laden has been one of America’s greatest nemeses, and the operation by the Navy SEALS to take him out must, I would imagine, go down in the annals of American military history as one of the most important—at least symbolically–of all military operations. In short: it is about time, and what pride I have at the patience and methodical deliberation of the American intelligence community and the American military.
And yet, strangely, I am grieved. Please don’t misunderstand. We were absolutely right to take bin Laden out. And, as I said, I am proud that the mission is accomplished. But for the follower of Christ Jesus the pride is tempered, on some level, with a grief that reflects a certain reality, and that is that bin Laden, contrary to Rob Bell’s confusing diatribe, is in Hell. You see, with the death of this great archenemy to the cause of hope and freedom, is also the demise of an opportunity whereby even he could find peace at the foot of Calvary.
Romans 12 and 13 offer a strange tension. Romans 13:4 says of our civic rulers that they are God’s servants for our good, bearing the sword not in vain, avengers who carry “out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4). The operation that finally brought bin Laden to his demise is a clear reflection of this responsibility. It is appropriate and just. It is a burden assigned by God himself.
But Romans 12:19 offers that we should never avenge ourselves, leaving “it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord'” (Rom. 12:19). How do we square these two points, one declaring the state must avenge and the other declaring we should never avenge? Perhaps the best way to resolve the (perceived) conflict is to simply acknowledge the necessity of bin Laden’s death with a sadness regarding the more transcendent reality about his soul. Should he have been killed?
Should we recognize that beyond the grave is eternal damnation that could have been dealt with through a contrite heart at the foot of the cross?
Both are true. And the tension, for the believer, is a blessing, helping us to embrace Justice with a heart that remains tender.