Broken World, Current Events — May 3, 2011 at 6:38 am

Bin Laden’s Death and the Limits of Our Love


Upon hearing about the death of Osama Bin Laden, I was immediately struck with a profound sadness. Throughout the day I found myself tearing up and fighting off waves of emotion. I’m sure some of the emotion is a result of not sleeping well and the grind that life has been for the last several weeks. But I also think there is more. Something about the events surrounding Bin Laden’s death causes me to mourn something bigger.

As I read through the Twitter feeds and Facebook posts, I realize I don’t relate to what a lot of people are feeling.  There is no joy in me whatsoever. I don’t feel relief at all. Thinking things will change or that this will bring an end to Al Qaeda seems absolutely ridiculous. For many, this feels like justice. I don’t even know what that means. How can you want justice for one and not for all? Isn’t justice what most people like Bin Laden say they want as well? Is their justice less important than ours? Who decides what’s just and what isn’t?

A few years ago I heard Desmond Tutu speak in Minneapolis. After a few minutes of talking about how all of humanity is connected to each other, he started talking about God’s perspective. I remember him saying, “With God, there are no outsiders. Everyone is an insider.” He quoted Jesus’ words when he said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.” The word that he parked on for the rest of his talk was “all.” 

As Archbishop Tutu preached and began to talk about God’s love for “all,” people began to clap and cheer. Then, he brilliantly began inserting specific people in relationship to the “all” of God’s love. I remember him pushing the envelope further and further and listening to people continue to clap and cheer. The second to the last person he referred to as being part of the “all” was President George W. Bush. People laughed but kept cheering.  However, the last person’s name to be shouted out that night by Desmond Tutu was Osama Bin Laden. When he yelled out his name, people didn’t know what to do. The clapping slowed, the cheering quieted, and Desmond Tutu knew that he had reached the limit of what the room could handle. He responded by yelling “all, ALL, ALL!!”

I’ll never forget that moment. What I realized is that we have a limit to our love. The pain of 9/11 was never truly dealt with in our country. We carry it and it lies hidden until someone comes along and pulls the cover off.  The pain is still there. Today we see it expressed in various ways all over the news and social networks.

The words that have stuck with me are the words of Jesus talking about how God “causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.” He then calls us to “be perfect therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” So much of Evangelical Christianity has been built on the premise that we will never be perfect, and yet Jesus calls us to be perfect like God is. I think the point of the passage is that God’s love is perfect. In other words, God loves all the same. If God loved one more than another, His love wouldn’t be perfect. 

It’s hard for me to comprehend God loving Osama Bin Laden as much as Mother Teresa, but it has to be true for perfection. We celebrate the death of one and mourn the death of another. The perfection Jesus calls us to isn’t about getting everything right, it’s about loving everyone the same.

I think my sadness today comes from realizing how far humanity is from the call of Jesus to be perfect in love. My own imperfection comes out when I read stories of people cheering for death, celebrating revenge, and lifting up violence.  What they hate about Bin Laden, I hate about them. The speck of dust in their eye is a chip off the plank in my own.  I’m disappointed in the violence in me and in all of us.

A few years ago, one of my mentors talked about how mercy is a higher value than justice. I’m not sure Bin Laden deserves mercy, but I’m also not sure that I do. The hope that I carry today is that despite my imperfection of love, God is still perfect in His. His story is a story where mercy comes in over justice. That’s good news for all of us.  

We need mercy more than ever if we are ever going to deal with the pain, anger, and violence that lies beneath the surface of our humanity. I mourn for our world today. The cycle of violence continues while we continue to push away and ignore the pain that lies at the center. Mercy, we need You to lead. 


  • Very well written piece! I’ve avoided most of the news coverage on Bin Laden’s death because like you I am saddened by it all. But reading this has given me hope, hope that people will re-think their perspectives and see the need for love, forgiveness and mercy.

    Thank you!

  • This is exactly what I have been thinking. Love is the reason why I became a Christian, and love gives us hope that tomorrow is gonna be better.

  • Very good article. My heart is with you. But here is where I struggle. Bin Laden repeatedly said why he did what he did it was always the same 3 reasons from before he became infamous and was repeated about a year ago that I know of:
    A. USA get out of Saudi Arabia, it’s our holy land
    OK fair enough his country doesn’t want me there I really don’t have issues with that, except- he isn’t a leader of Saudi Arabia and one reason he wanted US out of Saudi Arabia it would make it easier to over throw the House of Saudi.
    Where does mercy fit into that? Is that mercy to Bin Laden and his movement or the House of Saudi?
    B. Get out of the middle east ie Israel, let us deal with our own problems. Again if you have read his literature ‘deal with our own problems= genocide. You can down load Hamas carter Hetzbola charter and PA charter they all call for the destruction of Israel from simply as a political intity and other on a more Hitlerian level. It’s written in their charters plain as can be. Notice the PA’s emblem, there is no Israel it is all palistine. Hamas isn’t as generous. I’ve got their charter on my computer if you would like a copy.
    Where is mercy in the desire for genocide?
    C Convert to Islam.
    These are the three stated reasons Bin Laden gave for his actions. Repeatedly stated.
    Now I grieved as well at his end, there was nothing to celebrate I agree 100%. I agree God wants love relationship in all of humanity.
    my question is when the demands being made of you are
    A not my place to decide who’s friends with the House of Saudi
    B I can not watch genocide happen
    C I will not convert to Islam
    How does mercy interact with these? How does love show it’s self in a situation like this. When your refusal to accept the terms is…

  • John,

    Those are all excellent questions. I have no problem feeling glad that Osama is dead. He, like other mass murders (Hitler, Stalin, Jones) was evil and the world is a better place with him out of it. I am frankly getting a little tired of this self righteousness from a lot of Christians over the death of Osama. God is love, and we should strive to be love as well, but I don’t think that means we overlook and just let evil happen.

  • Very well written…thanks for being brave & sharing your heart. I, too, felt like FB had the flu yesterday…vomit & diarrhea was spewed all over my news feed. I had to take a break from it as I was both appalled & frustrated at the things I was reading. I’ve shared your blog entry.

  • You have courage Stefan. To take on the god of patriotism under the guise of justice and replace it with The God who is love.

    Beautifully stated. Keep writing.

  • Stefan-
    I see your point here, God does not have a capacity to love. He loves all those who sin against him. And Jesus paid the penalty for that. But doesn’t that love become fulfilled when we are repentant and we reach out for him and ask for his mercy and forgivness. Bin Laden did not show us that he was sorry for what he had done. No, we should not cheer in the wake of anyone dying or being killed, but a person must own up to their actions and ask for forgivness and repentance. There is room for mercy and love when dealing with terrorists, but it’s only by their actions can they recieve the full extent of it.

  • Did I cheer? No. Did I feel relief and gladness that he won’t be able to kill or terrorize anyone else ever again? Yes.

    There’s a fine line between mercy and enabling. Forgiving Osama doesn’t mean no longer holding him accountable for his deeds.

  • Is a love which allows that which destroys love to exist and prosper really love?? Is a parent which allows their child to be abused despite being able to stop it really loving?? Is a husband who watches his wife be raped despite being able to stop it really loving??

    I think too many have a reductionist view of love which only sees love as the mooshy gooshy stuff, but doesn’t see that love also has a angry side. Love is angry against that which would destroy love and the objects of that love. If one is loving the homeless they will be against that which seeks to keep the homeless in that position. If one is loving the abused one will be against the abuser and prevent the abuser from abusing (if possible). If one loves humanity one will be against those that seek to to destroy human life.

    Now I agree that there is evil in all of us and that our motives and actions are rarely if ever completely pure. Yet I don’t think this should stop us from acting, much less a government from acting. Romans 13 clearly places the power of the sword within the hands of the government to punish evildoers. Regardless of our own personal evil, or even the evils perpetrated by the U.S. government it cannot be denied that this is what happened in this case. A murderer of the innocent who would surely murder more in the future was properly and justly punished by a proper authority.

    • P.S. Do not take this to mean that those rejoicing in front of the capital were proper in doing so. I agree with those who say that celebrating in the death of anyone is completely inappropriate. However, I think there is a place to see praiseworthiness in the administration of justice whether by God or earthly authorities placed there by Him. Unfortunately what went on in front of the White House and elsewhere was not about justice, but about retribution and celebration for the death of somebody else. Too far….

    • You raise some really important points Michael. Thanks for the tone in your thoughtful response.

      I believe in a God who has best hopes and dreams for the world, for my life and for every life. When 3,000 people are killed in a terrorist attack, these best hopes and dreams are violated. Actions like these break God’s heart and make God angry; they should break our hearts and make us angry too.

      The question of HOW we should respond, in a way that both takes the evil in the world and Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies seriously, should be a fundamental concern for anyone who calls themselves a disciple.

      I’m not a pacifist. I believe the government is doing its job when it uses force (even lethal force) to restrain violence against people who cannot protect themselves.

      That being said, as a follower of Jesus I’m also deeply suspicious of any narrative that says the only two possible responses to confronting evil are flight or fight. The former does nothing to restrain evil. The later does nothing to break the cycles of violence that inevitably continue, or even get amplified, when one fights fire with fire.

      I generally oppose violent responses to violent actions, not because I don’t take evil seriously, but because I take it seriously enough that I don’t buy into the idea that if we simply rounded up all the “bad guys” in the world and killed them — assuming that were even possible without civilian deaths, which it is not — that we would see an end to wars, the use of lethal force, and other violent power plays.

      Jesus offered a third way, beyond the false choices of fight or flight: He built relationships with his enemies. He absorbed violence. He forgive those who persecuted him. And then he called on his followers to do the same.

      The past century is filled with example after example of what is possible when people choose the path of non-violent resistance in the face of oppression and evil. This isn’t mushy gooshy stuff. People who follow this path often pay a heavy price, spending years in prison (Havel, Mandela) or even losing their lives (Gandhi, MLK).

      Their witness proves that there are viable alternative responses to evil and oppression, that even better outcomes can result from these alternatives, and that violence should be used as a last resort rather than a first instinct.

      • Chris,

        I agree with you to a point. However, I think there is a dividing line somewhere between how we as followers of Christ (the Church) are to act and how governments are to act. I agree that answering violence with violence will never eliminate the violence. Yet I don’t see eliminating violence as governments job. Governments job is to use force to restrain evil as opposed to the Church which is to use love to overcome evil.

        Romans 13:4 reads “for it (authority/rulers) is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer.”

        At some level government is always about ruling and authority. This in turn is always at some level about power and force. It may be exercised in softer or harder ways, yet it is still about force. This, Romans 13 seems to indicate, is both to act as a instrument of God’s judgment and to restrain evil. On the other hand the Church is never about the use of force.

        So how do we reconcile this? I would suggest that we see government and the Church both as instruments of God, but designed for different purposes. I would further suggest that we do a great disservice to both when we expect one to act like the other.

  • John,

    I can recommend the following place, where I have found answers to most of my questions

    And don’t hesitate to read and listen because it’s about channelling. Much of the scriptures in GT were given in
    that way. And God is the same today as yesterday.

  • Chris,

    I fully agree and will add, that what we resist, will allways increase. When we accept what is, that is when we go beyond what happens we are awakening an understanding and our actions will be risen from love.
    And love wins.

  • How should we respond to bin Laden’s death?

    God’s character is seen in texts such as Ezekiel 18: 23, 32 where He says He takes no satisfaction in the death of the wicked.

    In addition, God’s character is seen in texts where He DOES take satisfaction in the demise and death of the wicked. He also calls His people to do the same.

    Texts such as:

    Deut 28:63 “And it shall be, that just as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess.”

    Prov 1:25-26 “Because you disdained all my counsel,
    And would have none of my rebuke, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes.”

    Prov 11:10 “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices; And when the wicked perish, there is jubilation.”

    Ezekiel 5:13 “Thus shall my anger spend itself, and I will vent my fury upon them and satisy myself.”

    Rev 18:20 “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prohets, for God has given judgment for you against her!”

    These texts (and others like them) give insight into the mind and character of God related to how we should react to the news of bin Laden’s death. We must embrace ALL of God’s character. Often God holds viewpoints (simultaneously) that appear to be in oppostion to one another. We must learn to do the same if we are ever to be like Him. There is never conflict or inconsistency in the perspectives of God, no matter the apparent tension. There is only perfect wisdom in total harmony. We must keep this in mind as we embrace ALL aspects of God’s character.

    While no doubt some (or perhaps even much) of the rejoicing over bin Laden’s death was not God-honoring, we must understand – according to biblical wisdom – there is a place for righteous celebration over the death of the wicked and, specifically, over the death of bin Laden.

    I would also note that there is NO moral equivalency between the celebrations of those who celebrated after 911 and the celebrations of those who celebrated after the death of bin Laden. 911 was an exceedingly heinous, sadistically wicked act. Any celebration of that act is sadistically wicked as well. The execution of bin Laden by U.S. military personnel was a righteous act. Celebration of that act is appropriate.

    Arguably the single best commentary on the book of Proverbs that combines theological directive with pastoral counsel was written by Charles Bridges (mid 1800s). Commenting on Proverbs 11:10 “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices; And when the wicked perish, there is jubilation”, Bridges said of the wicked “their perishing is a matter of present exultation. Such was the joy of Rome on the death of Nero, and the public rejoicings in the French Revolution at the death of Robespierre. The people of God unite in the shouting; not from any selfish feeling of revenge; much less from unfeeling hardness towards their fellow sinners. But when a hindrance to the good cause is removed; when the justice of God against sin, and His faithful preservation of His church, are displayed, ought not every feeling to be absorbed in a supreme interest in His glory? Ought they not to shout? The ‘Alleluia’ of heaven is an exulting testimony to the righteous judgments of the Lord our God, hastening forward His glorious kingdom.”

    The level of hatred that bin Laden had for Christ, for Christ’s church, and for Christ’s gospel had few rivals. The level of murderous vitriol and wicked malice that bin Laden displayed for the dar el harb (all those outside of Islam), had few rivals. His death is a cause for righteous rejoicing.

  • Patrick,

    God made you (and also Bin Laden) in his image. But if we believe that God´s behaviour is the same as we are behaving when we are still unconscius, then we surely are creating a wrong image of God. Jesus gave us an
    image of God as a loving father and told us to love our
    enemies likewise as he did when he said: Father, forgive
    them, they don´t know what they do (=they are still unconscious, they have not yet found God within themselves).

  • Gun,

    With respect, I am taking an orthodox (biblical) position on this topic.

  • What an important discussion!

    I cringed at the White House celebrations, but I also felt OBL was reaping only a small part the harvest he had sown. I understood the emotional release, but ached for the coming let-down that inevitably follows retributive justice.

    We are each called to turn our other cheek, but it’s less clear to me whether we’re called to turn our children’s and neighbor’s other cheeks by refusing to assume a defensive posture on behalf of other subjects of God’s love.

    There does appear to be instances of evil that warrant a response of righteous violence–Soddom and Gomorrah, the Great Flood. And God’s leading of Joshua’s conquests would suggest God doesn’t protect us from active participation. Does our targeting of OBL rise to the level of righteous violence? I don’t presume to know for sure, but I won’t categorically judge all violence as co-equal participants in evil.

    Might there be a wise use of violence that deters further violence rather than escalating it? The defeat of Hitlar comes to mind.

  • Keith,

    I appreciate your comment. In connection with what you have said, and what I have previously said, I would add that in passages such as Proverbs 24:17-18 “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it and be displeased, and turn away His anger from him”, shows how God’s people are to react when God is in the PROCESS of disciplining the wicked PRIOR TO God rendering a FINAL verdict and judgment on their actions. The response of God’s people should always be that God will grant repentance and grace to their adversaries in the midst of persecution or trial from them. As Christ said, we are to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

    But once God has ESTABLISHED his course and judgment our reaction is to stay in step with His righteous decision. Exodus 15, that records the song of Moses, is a prime example. Moses had been pleading for Pharaoh to relent. But at God’s ULTIMATE judgment regarding Pharaoh, Moses and Israel REJOICED in God’s action. In fact, at the vanguish of Pharaoh’s army, Israel collectively rejoiced and celebrated, even with singing and dancing (v 20).

    Now obviously, the situation with Moses, Israel, and Pharaoh, does not directly correlate with us and bin Laden. But it does give some insight into what God thinks is a righteous emotional reaction to the removal of someone who is an enemy of His cause and His people.

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