It has been more than a week since Osama bin Laden’s death. When I first heard the news I felt no joy. I was not sad that he was dead. I am glad he is no longer a threat to innocent people. I believe the world is a better place without him. But I wondered why I did not feel like dancing in the streets and waving flags. Why did I feel no jubilation at this news?
Perhaps my sadness stemmed from the conflicting worldviews represented in bin Laden’s death. One worldview operates on the basis of terror, violence, bloodshed, retaliation and revenge. The other world view operates on the basis of love, forgiveness, kindness, gentleness, goodness and grace. The killing of bin Laden seemed to demonstrate the triumph of the first worldview, leaving the questions: Can the second worldview exist with out the first, or does it exist at all? How do those of us who opt for compassion, forgiveness and grace live in a world that seems dominated by violence, retaliation and revenge?
When I was a youth I shocked my mother by saying, “God is not just.” I think she wanted to wash my mouth out with soap. I simply could not reconcile God’s justice with God’s grace. If God is just, it seemed to me, he could not be loving and forgiving. On the other hand, if he were loving and forgiving, he could not be just. So, I opted for a loving and forgiving God. Of course I was wrong. God is both loving and just. He revealed himself to Moses as “the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness and truth; who keeps loving kindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.” (Exodus 34:6-7).
God’s justice and grace intersected on Golgotha. Jesus endured the cross because he knew a penalty must be paid for our sin and that violence, hatred and cruelty must be overcome by God’s grace and goodness. Isaiah had predicted this moment: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa. 53:5-6).
Our fallen world is filled with violence and hatred, goodness and grace, all at the same time. Somehow we must seek both justice and grace. I have no doubt that Osama bin Laden deserved death. But his death in no way compensates for the thousands of innocent lives lost on 9/11 or the multiplied thousands more brave and innocent men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the thousands of young Muslims led astray by his radical views. Personally, I am ready to celebrate goodness and grace everywhere it is found. And I am prepared to affirm justice wherever it is necessary and can be achieved.