Monday, May 2, 2011

Justice and Retribution: Bin Laden

Shakespeare's Fool in Hamlet famously stated that "History is like a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." September 11, 2001 seemed to bear that sentiment out. What has just happened to us, and why? But last night, about 10:45 PM, the "sound and fury" resolved themselves into a major chord of resolution, as we heard the news that justice had finally been done.

Usama Bin Laden has made a career of terrorism. Wandering from one patron to another, often duping those who thought he was serving their purposes, he ultimately was serving his own purpose, the purpose of destroying the non-Islamic world, but not merely that. His terrorism spent itself also in the destruction of Muslims, Muslims who did not support his brand of Islamic fanaticism.

That career is now over. Undoubtedly, some Christians (and others) will begin to second guess whether this act of justice was, well, just. After all, he had been marginalized and forced to live on the run, hiding in the mountains and in compounds where his quality of life was likely very meager. Perhaps that ought to be seen as punishment enough. And what about "Thou shalt not kill"? It is not as though he was in our country and could have been abducted by the police and put on trial. He was only apprehended by a nearly ten-year-long mission to find him and take him down, a mission that has cost American tax-payers billions of dollars. Why not just leave him to the Lord, and let God sort it out?

The answer is that God has ordained that justice in this age, for the matters of this life, in so far as justice can possibly be meted out in this age, should be carried out by governments. That is Paul's whole point in Romans 13:4. The government has been given the power of the sword and is a "minister" of God to the end of justice in this age. In other words, for governments not to carry out that role would be an abandonment of their calling. The US military forces that killed Bin Laden were doing their God-ordained duty, even if they did not see it in just those terms. Just yesterday I had a conversation with a 94-year old man who spent three years fighting the Nazis in France and Belgium. As he put it to me, "We were doing the Lord's work." Indeed they were, and I told him so! The men who lifted their weapons yesterday and drew down on this terrorist were doing the Lord's will every bit as much as pastors, standing in the pulpit, bringing the Word to his people yesterday, were doing the Lord's will.

I am not glorifying death. I am not in any way a hater of Muslims, though I reject Islam as a false gospel. I am not a hawk, calling for more war and death and destruction. I love peace, and I would wish that no other person, American or otherwise, would have to die for his country in war. But what I am saying is that the American government had a God-ordained duty to bring this man to justice, dead or alive. It has done so, and our attitude ought to be one of gratitude, of solemn recognition that our sins will find us out, and of knowing that every person will one day stand before God to be judged according to the deeds done in the body. We may take a moment to rejoice, but we also need to look to ourselves to be sure that our hearts are right before God.

Justice cannot always be meted out in this age. Adolf Hitler had to face the Lord without temporal justice being passed on him. On May 1st, 1945, it was announced to the world that Hitler was dead; exactly sixty-six years later, May 1st, 2011, it was announced that Bin Laden was dead. Our government has done the right thing. I am grateful to the President, to the American military, to the Pakistani government, and to Bible teachers and readers who still believe that justice is important in this age, as well as in the age to come.

Chad Owen Brand


  1. I agree that bin Laden is very evil, and that a proper thirst for justice is righteous. And as you mention this is one of the state's jobs. However, the explicit instructions were to "shoot to kill" (not capture). Doesn't this undermine the principle of due process that is so integral to liberal democracy?

    Furthermore, is uncontrolled celebration in the public streets really the best way to react to this news, especially for Christians? What about the biblical writers remarks?

    "Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do do not let your heart be glad when they stumble". (Proverbs 24:17)

    “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live”. (Ezekiel 33:11)

    "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice". (Proverbs 24:17)

    I freely admit the Kingdom ethic of loving our enemies, and leaving vengeance for God is difficult, even counterintuitive at times. I am tempted to gloat in bloodthirsty vengeance, but that I not the calling of Christ followers, that the calling of Batman or The Punisher.

  2. I agree with Dr. Burk and think Anonymous needs to read his article too.

    I enjoyed how you told the WWII veteran that he was doing God's will, and of course I agree. But what is it about his work and the work of those against Bin Laden that makes it equal with the preaching of the gospel? I wasn't sure I could provide Scripture for that equality.

  3. I did not say it was equal with preaching the gospel. I said they were doing the Lord's work, a la Romans 13:4, just as preachers are doing the Lord's work. Paul calls them both "ministers," but they are certainly not the same thing.

  4. Bin Laden was not a US citizen given the same rights as we have. He was a madman with a bomb trigger, a heart of stone and a seared brain. He freely admitted to killing thousands and wanted to kill more. What kind of evidence could have been brought forward to sway a jury from guaranteed capital punishment? None. I thank our Navy Seals for executing their orders successfully and with lethality. Justice was served through the sword of our military, a legitimate arm of the US Government. There was and is an imminent threat to our soil and countrymen abroad, swift action was the best route. Police do not wait for lunatic with a gun to shoot a cop or bystander, they shoot to kill.

  5. I must have misunderstood the last sentence of the fourth paragraph, "The men who lifted their weapons yesterday and drew down on this terrorist were doing the Lord's will every bit as much as pastors, standing in the pulpit, bringing the Word to his people yesterday, were doing the Lord's will. " Thank you for the clarification.