Fear not bin Laden

It’s been almost a week now since we learnt of the death of Osama bin Laden. Since then we’ve had reports and redacted reports of how he came to meet his end. First he went down guns blazing, then he was cowering like a coward behind his wife (which led to this unfortunate tweet from the otherwise normally high quality Mark Driscoll.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/PastorMark/status/66472391806681088″]

Er perhaps. Finally it emerged that basically the US Navy SEALS to all intents and purposes just found him and shot him and that has raised a number of questions as to whether such an approach was lawful or moral.

The religious leaders naturally had one or two things to say about that, with Rowan and Tom Wright coming out sounding notes of caution on how to respond.

Of course, ‘proper justice’ is hard to come by internationally. America regularly casts the UN (and the International Criminal Court) as the hapless sheriff, and so continues to play the world’s undercover policeman. The UK has gone along for the ride. What will we do when new superpowers arise and try the same trick on us? And what has any of this to do with something most Americans also believe, that the God of ultimate justice and truth was fully and finally revealed in the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, who taught people to love their enemies, and warned that those who take the sword will perish by the sword?

Bishop Alan Wilson has also had some things to say along a similar theme.

It follows from this basic theology from page 1 of the Bible, that if I commit an act, like a lynching, that denies the image of God in another human being I not only act out my own fallen nature (thus losing the moral high ground), but I also behave in a way that compromises my own humanity — thank God he gave it as an absolute that no human being can take away, not even me.

Of course, that approach takes us towards Romans 13 territory where it might be reasonably argued that the State has the authority to take life in certain circumstances because it is acting as an agent of God (which is the tangent along which some of the American Evangelical response has been travelling). But this raises issues itself (coming back to one of Tom Wright’s pet subjects of the past few years) of what the emphasis in the Christian meta-narrative should be to death and the death after death that Scripture tells us is coming.

Krish Kandiah has put together some of the verses that have been quoted this past week. Commendable stuff, but they all seem to miss a major aspect of Jesus’ teaching on judgement.

As soon as I heard the news about Osama’s death one verse sprang right into the front of my mind and it was this one.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Matthew 10:28

In the midst of the (understandable) concern over whether bin Laden should or shouldn’t have been taken out in such a blatantly aggressive manner, some of us seem to have lost sight of the fact that whilst our three score year and ten are important, a greater, more serious death awaits many who don’t trust Christ with their eternity. Yes, it is wrong to take someone’s life, but then it is wrong when cancer takes from us other people. It is wrong, so very wrong, when terrorists kill thousands of people with hijacked planes, but is also wrong, so very wrong, when a young child steps into the road and is mown down by an articulated lorry.

All these things are dreadful, and we grieve over the loss of life, but Jesus points us beyond this temporal dissonance and anxiety. “Don’t fear” he says. Don’t fear things in this life that can only destroy the body. Don’t fear terrorists or government assassins. Don’t fear cancer or random accidents. These things can only get rid of (punish?) this frail, broken, fallen body. It will pass. It is like dust compared to the glory that may follow.

It is He who can destroy body and soul who is to be feared argues Jesus. The death that bin Laden and many, many others should fear is not the assassin’s bullet, but the judgement of God. Our meagre time on this broken planet is as nothing compared to that which is to follow and it is the second death that is the one of eternal consequence. If Jesus says that we should fear Him who can destroy both body and soul that implies that God will destroy many bodies and souls on that dreadful judgement day. If not, why should anybody be afraid of it?

There is a curious pattern I find in much of what Jesus does. In his three years of ministry he heals the sick and raises the dead and then almost immediately points beyond this life for the decisions and consequences that really count. Time and time again he asks us to look to the Judge of the world and then to our souls. Luke 13:1-9 is the other classic Gospel passage that makes this point. The planter of the fig tree is coming and he will cut down the plants that are not pleasing to him.

The death of Osama bin Laden is a warning to us all and it is a warning far more important than the discussion of the justice or otherwise of his first death. We spend so much time in this life dreading the first death and arguing about the morality of otherwise of it’s circumstances. In contrast, Jesus time and time points us to the second death and tells us that horrific first deaths are just a fore-taste of what might be in store for some after that.

Sobering thoughts.

13 Comments on “Fear not bin Laden

  1. Actually, a quick swatch at Pastor Mark's cultic twitter page reveals a recent comment of inane fratboy homophobia. His Bin Laden comment is entirely consistent with someone whose ethos and poster-boy appeal manages to be a walking argument *against* evangelical Christianity. One is reminded, not in a good way, of equally-popular Todd Bentley kicking a cancer sufferer in the balls. That's orthodoxy?! Oy gevalt. And yes, I realise that thousands of people go to Mars Hill, but bums-on-seats is not the primary marker of genuine, "successful" Christianity.

    • Pastor Mark’s cultic twitter page

      Really, you could have just written "Pastor Mark's twitter page". It would have done your argument no end of good.

  2. Hello,

    a ragbag….

    – as I may have quoted before, "Wherever there's a lynching, the devil will be there: / A witch or an apostle, the devil doesn't care" (Sydney Carter)

    – "…it might be reasonably argued that the State has the authority to take life in certain circumstances…" – ah, but which circumstances…?

    – interesting that your Scripture quote today in the sidebar, is Luke 6:27-28…

    – "If Jesus says that we should fear Him who can destroy both body and soul that implies that God will destroy many bodies and souls on that dreadful judgement day" – well, you read it to imply that, but it could also imply simply that God *could*. Am not sure how it can be consonant with the Gospel to present it as a threat…

    – "The death that bin Laden and many, many others should fear is not the assassin’s bullet, but the judgement of God" – and aren't you and I among the "many, many others"?

    in friendship, Blair

    • interesting that your Scripture quote today in the sidebar, is Luke 6:27-28…

      The poignancy of that was not lost on me.

      “The death that bin Laden and many, many others should fear is not the assassin’s bullet, but the judgement of God” – and aren’t you and I among the “many, many others”?

      Well yes, but if we have trusted Jesus with our lives then the problem of our sin and God's wrath against it has been sorted n'est ce pas?

      • Because it's the Right Thing to Do? Carrots-and-sticks hardly automatically bespeak a laudable theological model, let alone the self-evident transcendent glories of the One True God.

  3. I understand that the assumption was that he would be wearing an explosive pack or vest. That explains why he and others were shot in the head. An explosive vest could have killed all in the compound. The shot in the head was the best choice based upon assumptions made.

    Also, firearms were nearby. We have bombed other terror leaders so they did not even have the chance to surrender. Albeit small, he was given a chance others were not given.

    The real shame is the President making a victory lap after the shooting.

  4. I agree that it is a time for sober reflection rather than jubilation. I suppose my only problem with us drawing from this a message about the need to focus on God's destructive, punitive power is that Bin Laden's evil did not arise from a lack of belief in an all powerful, fearful God, but rather the opposite. Like many fundamentalists, Bin Laden's perceptions of God focused on the wrathful and on his injunctions to kill the infidel. I am not sure I would say Bin Laden did not fear God, more that he only saw a dreadful God of wrath and anger and not mercy or compassion.

    What does that teach us?

    • I think it teaches us that the God of Islam doesn't do real grace and cannot offer himself as an atonement for sin. The Biblical Jesus is the person within which God's love and holiness (which is the reason for his wrath against sinners) come together. The great judge of the universe is also the one who pays the penalty (for those who will have him pay that penalty).

      • Proof-texting is hardly ideal, but, if that's your argument, then wouldn't it be sensible to cite representative texts from the Qur'an that support it? Also – and I know you've posted US republican stuff in the past – there's something a bit churlish in not acknowledging such an important and successful military operation that even right wing-nuts like Rush Limbaugh have had to praise. You've also posted lots of pro-Tory stuff, and they – thank, literally, God – are very far from running on a pacifist ticket derived from misapplying turn the other cheek texts. "Fear God", to me, does not necessarily imply that people ought not to also to fear other things (bullet in Bin Laden's case, terrorism for those in the West?). Truly, the AB of C's response to Bin Laden's death makes even an arch non-Tory like me pine for the days when Thatcher would rightfully rebuke soppy pc bishops!

  5. It teaches us many things, not least to be aware of the mercy that tempers justice. Bin Laden had no knowledge of this – although I have to say that I have Muslim friends who are alive to God's mercy and compassion. I agree that Christianity offers unique grace, but that does not lead us to despise or denigrate others, but to value them even more because we may get a glimpse of them through God's eyes. None of this stops us being angered by atrocity and injustice – God is too, but we know the need to perfectly balance mercy and justice is not possible for fallible human beings, judgement and vengeance is God's, not ours.

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