By now you are well aware of the news: Osama bin Laden has been killed. How should we respond as Christians? Much has been said in the past few days; here are a few more thoughts.
I am a citizen of the kingdom of God. This is due to the work of salvation that Jesus Christ began on the cross and has been completing in me since I accepted him into my heart when I was a child. One way our scriptures speak of this is being “born again” or “born from above.” This new birth marked my entrance into the kingdom of God, which Jesus proclaimed was breaking into the world but was not of this world. This kingdom is already present but not yet consummated. This kingdom is populated with human beings whose earthly mortality will not end their participation in the kingdom.
I am also a citizen of the United States of America. This is due to the fact that my parents lived in this country at the time that I was born. I am certainly grateful for all the blessings that accompany that citizenship – and I am sure that there are many of which I am not even aware. However, my citizenship in this country is only good for as long as my mortal body is alive. At death, this citizenship expires.
Why is this distinction important? I believe that I must maintain this distinction so that I can learn to react appropriately to events that take place in the world around me. When crime occurs in my neighborhood, I struggle with the presence of evil, but I attempt to forgive those who do me harm and pray for those who persecute me. When joblessness and poverty fuel each other in a vicious cycle, I encourage and share resources with (or ask for help from) people around me. When troubles, wars, famines, and plagues of all kinds strike my homeland, I trust in the Lord, who said these things must happen, and I offer a helping hand whenever possible.
How does a citizen of the kingdom of God react to the news of Osama bin Laden’s death? How should an American Christian respond? To be honest, I don’t know.
It is undoubtedly a good thing for the United States that bin Laden has been killed. His death signals a major victory against terrorist organizations, and it allows us to breathe a small sigh of relief after holding our collective breath for the past ten years. However, since my citizenship is primarily in the kingdom of God rather than in an earthly kingdom, my reactions to this event must reflect that identity.
One more person has died without having a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
This person’s death has elicited responses of satisfied revenge among many American citizens. King David praised God for how Abigail persuaded him not to seek revenge against her husband Nabal and the men of his town (1 Samuel 25:32-34).
This person’s death may usher in an era of peace for our nation; on the other hand, the future may hold more uncertainty and hardship. Jesus Christ’s command still stands: we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us – that is, those who persecute the church, not those who persecute the United States (Matthew 5:43-48).
Furthermore, we should agree with Paul, who says that “whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:1-12). However, this statement comes in the context of disagreements within the church. How we choose to relate to other believers is, I believe, of far greater importance than how we choose to react to the death of an international terrorist. Our unity is of extreme importance, because it points to the reality of Jesus Christ coming from God the Father on a mission of sacrificial love (John 17:22-23).
Osama bin Laden is dead; this may indeed be a very good thing for our nation. Yet the mission of the church is the same as it was a week ago – and ten years ago – and it will remain the same ten years from now. Our safety and national interests cannot take precedence over the interests of the kingdom of God.