With all of the talk tonight of Bin Laden’s death being one of the high points of the Obama presidency, I thought I would repost what I wrote the night Obama made the announcement of the raid. I do not deny that it was the inevitable, if not right, decision to make. But I believe as Christians, we need to be careful how we use the word “Justice”.
My original post follows below:
According to Wikipedia, “Justice is the concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, fairness, or equity, along with the punishment of the breach of said ethics.”
Last night, President Obama announced, “Justice has been done.” Osama bin Ladin is dead.
Statements like this cause me to question our understanding of justice. Certainly by the definition above the killing of Osama bin Ladin is easily considered an act of justice. But is it really? I just finished writing a 35 page thesis centered on the idea justice is found in the restoration of relationships, that justice is grace and reconciliation.
By any measure imaginable the killing of bin Laden was not only permissible but it was the “right” thing to do. His death somehow brings a modicum of justice for all the suffering caused by the 9/11 attacks. This was what had to be done. It was the morally right thing to do.
But I struggle to see how the killing–he didn’t die by accident, this was a premeditated act–of an individual, no matter how evil, truly brings justice. In my opinion, this was punishment. There is no reconciliation that will happen as a result of his death. Beyond the initial euphoria of his demise, most people in the West will realize there are still extremists on all fringes who are willing to inflict pain and suffering to advance what they believe is a just cause. We still live in a fallen world of fallen people.
This is why we cannot bind the concepts of justice and punishment. I have seen Christians post verses referencing God granting authority to worldly powers to carry out judgement. Granted, I am no Biblical scholar, but I think this reading is wrong. Our legal system is really built on restitution instead of restoration—we even talk about criminals paying their debt to society. The government simply having the power to bring punishment does not mean that power is always truly righteous and just. In fact, believing the state has the divine authority to enforce moral codes is essentially the concept of Sharia law–the state enforcing a strict religious code to ensure a nation of right living people. I think God does use governmental powers to punish and reward, but I do not believe they are his ideal vehicle for true justice. Rather than functioning as wrathful instruments of God’s vengeance, I believe God has called Christians to be instruments of justice—healing and restoring broken people and relationships.
Yet real life is rarely so straightforward. If real justice as I am beginning to understand it is the restoration and reconciliation of relationships, I don’t know if that could be achieved here. I don’t know that any degree of repentance or soliciting of forgiveness could have reconciled bin Laden to the events of 9/11 and the people who’s lives were changed as a result. And I certainly wouldn’t presume upon the survivors and families effected by 9/11 to offer forgiveness of their own volition. In this situation, only God’s perfect grace and love can move them to such a decision.
Harry Waizer, a World Trade Center survivor, paused nearly a minute before he began to speak when reached by phone.
“If this means there is one less death in the future, then I’m glad for that,” said Mr. Waizer, who was in an elevator riding to work when the plane struck the building. He made it down the stairs, but suffered third-degree burns.
“But I just can’t find it in me to be glad one more person is dead, even if it is Osama bin Laden.”
Asked whether he felt any closure, Mr. Waizer said: “I’ve said for years I didn’t think there would be, but I’ll probably need to think about that more, now that it actually happened.”
“You know, the dead are still dead,” he added. “So in that sense, there is no such thing as closure.”
(via New York Times)
So where does this leave us? Are we to celebrate the death of a mass murderer? Are we to delight in his erasure? Are we to quote Bible verses supporting our view that God will send the forces of righteousness (who oddly seem to often be pictured wearing the American flag) to punish the wicked?
I would suggest rather than celebrate the violent killing of five human beings in retaliation for the thousands who died on 9/11, we pray. We pray for the men and women who risk their lives protecting our country. We pray for the world leaders involved in making life and death decisions ever day. We pray for the broken economic, social and political systems that leave millions of people around the globe feeling they have no alternative but violence. And I suggest we pray for true justice; for mercy and grace; for the reconciliation and healing of relationships between people, cultures and religions.