Should Christians celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden?

Like all of us, I have been watching and listening to the coverage concerning the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. Without stepping on to a large soapbox, I wanted to provide a few words concerning the Christian response to events such as this.

To be quite honest, watching the media portrayal of the celebrating crowds strikes me as a bit odd. Especially as one who follows the resurrected Jesus, and reads the Scriptures through the lens of this reality. It is confusing and hard for me to know how to respond to images like this; especially as a Christian who is fortunate to live in this great nation of ours. The images we experienced through the media today seem similar to others we have seen; of folks in the Middle East burning George Bush or Barack Obama dolls. Certainly this cycle of war, violence, and death falls short of the glory of God, and is antithetical to the kingdom of God offered through our Lord. All humans rebel against God and his order (this truth knows no national boundaries). We know that. It seems odd to celebrate that. What are we celebrating? Are we celebrating death? In this Easter season it seems odd to tip a hat to the cycle of death and revenge that exists in our world; a cycle that announces the Law over Grace. At the heart of the Christian story is the reconciliation of Christ, and the transfer of this call to His followers on Pentecost. The Kingdom of God is made manifest amoung us through all who claim His name, and are called to, “…regard no one from a worldly point of view” (2 Cor. 5:16). As Wendall Berry puts it, we are to “practice resurrection.” A sentiment with which the Apostle Paul agrees. Christians believe by faith in the resurrection, and that through Christ’s death, …”God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us’ (2 Cor 5.19). We are, in fact, ‘Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us’ (2 Cor 5.20). This story is hard to live, but Jesus taught His followers to live by it, and through it. Those celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden (or anyone else for that matter) are voicing a different story. It is an alternative morality of violence and death that has (for Christians) been put to death through the death of Christ. We live into God’s future precisely because God has assured us of his victory through the resurrection of Christ. Easter faith is a protest against all who work for death (no matter who is on the ‘right’ side). Our Lord was also confronted with the choice between revenge and reconciliation. I am thankful that He chose the latter, and in so doing, redefined justice.

Celebrating events like this in our national culture is not a Christian response for those who would take the life of Jesus and the Scriptures seriously. In spite of the Resurrection; the cycle continues. Sadness is the Christian response to these events during this Easter season. No matter what nation God has placed us in. All the while, I am thankful that God has placed me in this one.

‘Not that long ago on television we heard a soldier protest, “You must understand . . . it was our revenge!” The soldier was a Serb captured by the Kosovo Liberation Army. His words were broadcast in a television interview, nicely translated for the benefit of English-speaking peoples. He admitted that his unit had been involved in brutal acts of ethnic cleansing. Certainly he was frightened to be in the hands of his enemies, but he did not appear to be ashamed: “You must understand . . . it was our revenge!”

That is the trouble with revenge, of course: it does not feel like a sin. It feels like justice. Many of us have become inured to the distinction because we have watched so many movies or read so many books in which revenge, especially revenge that is adamantly pursued when the proper authorities either cannot or will not pursue justice, is itself just. It matters little if the hero is Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti western or a Dirty Harry film, or Bruce Lee in a martial arts flick, or Rambo getting even in Vietnam. In every case, we enjoy a cathartic release because we are made to feel the violence is just and therefore that the revenge is justified. When the right is on your side, revenge, no matter how violent, is a pleasure. It is just‘.

– Don A. Carson, Love in Hard Places (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2002), 72–3.