Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Bin Laden's Death and the Variety of Christian Responses

Each person’s reaction to Bin Laden’s death tells something about how we align ourselves with God, or about what aspect of God we perceive, and relate to, most vividly. I expect that we can find scriptural backing for any reaction that we express, assuming therefore that it reflects the very character of God. In Bin Laden’s death, I realize that the military did what was right as far as I can tell, and for any reduction in terrorism, we can rejoice; still, our personal reaction to Bin Laden’s death itself is, I think, an opportunity for self-examination, that we might be aligned with God’s will for such lost people. The fact that there is such a vast variety of responses to his death even among Christians is stunning, when since we have the mind of Christ, I would think we would be fairly like-minded. This variety tells me that we all view a different emphasis of Scripture truth applied to the life and death of Bin Laden (and perhaps any unbeliever).
Perhaps we want to implement God’s sense of justice (Deut. 16:20), and our main concern is gladness that justice has humanly been served.
Perhaps we want to express His hatred of sin (Hab. 1:13), and we are therefore glad that one less sinner is wreaking death and destruction on the planet. God can’t look on sin with favor, because He is holy; and it isn’t that we ought to look on the sin of men with favor, but because we aren’t entirely holy, and have experienced the guilt of sin, perhaps we can call to remembrance that darkness and an understanding of the unbeliever’s urgent need for salvation.
Perhaps we want to exact God’s vengeance (Romans 12:19), and so as Muslims celebrated 9-11, we might dance and celebrate in the streets at this victory, knowing that they may see it on their news reports half a world away. Though…we might in this forget, because of the emphasis placed on the three words, vengeance is Mine…that indeed, it is His alone, that in the same breath He says not to take our own vengeance. Vengeance is an attribute of God that clearly doesn’t belong to us.
Or perhaps it is sorrow, that Bin Laden never realized in all his earthly life the knowledge of God that would have transformed his thinking and his actions, that would have particularly made a huge difference in at least the last ten years of the world’s history (Ephesians 2:11-12) and in his personal eternity; he died to end a destructive, fruitless and hopeless life.
Or perhaps it is mourning, realizing that God’s desire is that none should perish, and that everyone should come to salvation (2 Peter 3:9). In light of this verse, I think that God is grieved that Bin Laden died still separated from Him and therefore condemned to an eternity in hell.
I’m sure I’ve missed some of the variety of responses, but this probably covers the bulk of them. I think our reaction may illuminate how we perceive our own salvation to have occurred. Did it occur because we were worthy, that God saw something good in us that made Him want to redeem us more than our unsaved neighbors? Did it occur because we would become something good so readily after being saved, and since God knew that, He chose us? Or did it occur in a way that would never make sense to us this side of heaven? It seems that Christians’ perceptions tend to fall into these three categories pretty clearly. In fact, I think I’ve fallen into all of these categories, especially at the beginning of my Christian walk; I probably still forget, too, in the present, just how only one of these categories truly fits. Nothing we have done contributes to our own salvation: it’s not by our works of righteousness; apart from Christ we have nothing to offer God (Titus 3:5; Rom. 3:10-18; Isa. 64:6). Even David didn’t claim righteousness of his own doing.
If we believe that we had something good in us that caused God to choose us, then we believe a blatant lie that has nothing to do with the Scriptures and we need to go back and re-examine them. I think that this stance is what brings us to hold and display the most prideful of attitudes toward unbelievers; we think that their inferiority is established by the fact that God has chosen us and has not deigned to choose them. Anything that comes from such a prideful perspective so muddles our witness that the love of God toward unbelievers becomes virtually obliterated and it’s no wonder that unbelievers come away with the view of Christians being hypocrites.
If we believe that God foresaw that we would become such a good and helpful addition soon after salvation that it caused Him to save us, then we are again dead wrong and we need to take another look at the Scriptures. At least in this instance a person could attribute that stance to the progress we make in our sanctification; but still, that is God working in and through us, not anything that is brought about by any of our goodness, so we’re still completely off base. This view is also likely to cause a distorted view of God’s love and salvation in our approach to unbelievers.
It is only God’s grace and mercy that has saved us (Ephesians 2:8); it was nothing in us before we were saved, and remains all His grace and mercy even now. We are, apart from Him, completely as unworthy and would be as completely unregenerate as the worst of sinners. Therefore even Hitler and Bin Laden were both as worthy as we are to receive salvation (which is, not worthy at all); we have no grounds to rejoice in their death.
We sing, “Lord, give me Your eyes for just one second, give me Your eyes so I can see everything that I keep missing, give me Your love for humanity,” and then spew violent reactions to the news of Bin Laden’s death. There are many traits of God that we will imitate and show to unbelievers; this incident makes me see all the more the truth of 1 Corinthians 13, a whole chapter devoted to God’s love shown through the believer…no chapter devoted to the goodness or superiority of the believer. If we show no other trait of God to anyone, we should show His love. We should put aside our assessment of the person’s worthiness, because all of humanity shares in that same need for the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, including ourselves.

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