Monday, May 2, 2011

Justice and Osama

I think it was the right move to go after Bin Laden. He was responsible for terrible acts towards our citizens. Perhaps the most terrible part of 9/11 are the empty chairs at dinner tables across the United States and across the world. He wished that to happen. Even if he saw 9/11 as a move in a larger war rather than the start of one, he wished that to happen to women, children, men, Muslims, Christians, civilians.

He is dead now and people are celebrating. He was a symbol of terror. I would rather have denied him martyrdom and kept him in a jail cell for the rest of his life, but he is dead and that is probably good. I am sure those who carried out this mission did their very best and obviously they are incredibly competent. But should we celebrate Bin Laden's death?

In one sense yes. His death may help to protect America in the future by making it look strong to a culture that respects the appearance of strength and honor. I would say his death may act as a deterrent to future terrorists, but we all know that potential loss of life is of little consequence in preventing suicide attacks. But still, this act may contribute in some way to our long-term safety. Perhaps, if handled correctly, it will help the world remember the United States as it was right after 9/11 - unified, a symbol of stalwart freedom to the rest of the world, as opposed to the misguided superpower invading Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 whatsoever.

But what is justice really? Has it been served? As mentioned, if more protection and deterrence has been accomplished, then to an extent yes. But is Bin Laden's death, in the retributive sense, justice? Not to me. For two reasons:

One - It changes little on the ground. The victims of 9/11 and the ensuing wars are still dead and injured. Another death does not change that. It is still unjust through and through.

Two - The only real justice that could be enacted on Bin Laden is for him to fully realize what he has done. Without this, he simply died thinking that he was right. He died seeing himself as God's servant, a martyr for his cause, and where is the satisfaction in that?

Rather, Bin Laden should have to know what it is like for a family to sit for years at a dinner table with chairs that he helped to empty. He should have to see the physical suffering at the site of 9/11 and feel compassion for the victims. True justice would be for Bin Laden to identify himself with those he killed and maimed, to identify completely with the little children growing up without mothers and fathers. True justice would be to let him drown in a sea of empathy, of the pure objectivity of a God's-eye view. He should have to see the suffering he enacted upon others as suffering enacted upon himself.

But this is beyond our power.

I think of these verses in Romans chapter 12:

"Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written,"Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Perhaps some think that we should not pursue revenge because God's revenge will be much harsher. They think that the reason we should be kind and honorable is simply that we are saving the horrible stuff for God. Rather, I think that a good God teaches us to be good, because He is good. He leads by example. So perhaps God's vengeance, rather than being a meaningless trade of pain for pain, would put Bin Laden in front of a mirror with all his illusions cast aside. Then he would see what he has done, and it would be terrible, unbearable, almost. And then, as a consequence of this vengeance, Bin Laden would be a new person. After all, if one truly realizes one's wrongs, then one wishes to do better and is therefore reborn. And the cosmos would have taken another step towards reconciliation, rather than another sideways step of retributive vengeance of pain for pain. Perhaps we leave vengeance to God because God can do what we cannot.

Perhaps this type of justice is praiseworthy, the true meaning of satisfaction, not simply because of its terrible power, but because of its purpose - rather than a static retribution, a dynamic rebirth.

This is the only revenge that fulfills the requirements of justice. The criminal's knees must hit the ground, his tongue must confess, his heart must be changed. The only true revenge is restoration.

Sounds Christian to me!


  1. Amen!!! Thank you for this post!

  2. Hello,
    I came across your blog by searching for a 'a Christian universalists response to Osama Bin Laden'...

    I really appreciate your post and agree with what you're saying. I also choose to believe that Gods' ways..His vengeance, love, judgment, grace...are higher and are an eternal miles distance beyond our ways, capabilities, or imagination. If God was as human-like as many believe He is He just might not be God.

    I also really appreciate your take on what true justice would look like...Thanks for your thoughtful words...


  3. Amy, thank you!

    Justin, I am so glad you found the post. I really appreciate your comment! all the best, Steven

  4. I like the idea that Justin googled, found a post on you philosophical musings on the nature of justice and hell, then scrolled to the bottom and saw "Where Did the Horny Toad Go?" right below the Comments link.