Osama bin Laden received a bullet in the head from a Navy SEAL, and now he is dead. What are we to make of this? Here are my thoughts:
First, we must give praise to US intelligence forces and the military, especially the special forces who pulled off this mission. Our military expertise is simply amazing.
Second, we must give credit to President Obama. He kept up the pursuit, he demanded a specific plan from his advisors to make this happen, and he gave the risky order that led to this major victory. If this mission had failed and American lives had been lost, he would have justly taken the blame. By the same token, he should now justly receive credit. In the last two years there have been many times when I have asked myself, “Can this president do anything right?” His domestic policy has been atrocious. His foreign policy has been generally ineffective. His decision to (kind of?) get involved in Libya has been troubling and possibly disastrous. But last night he appeared more presidential than I have ever seen him. He nailed the guy who eluded President Bush for seven years. That is a momentous achievement, the greatest of his presidency so far.
Third, when I heard the news I couldn’t help but reflect on the presidency of George W. Bush, who also deserves credit for initiating this mission and laying the groundwork for what happened yesterday. President Obama displayed appropriate and thoughtful courtesy by personally contacting the former President to deliver the good news to him. This achievement belongs to both of them.
Fourth, this event was an act of divine judgment. God killed Osama bin Laden. How can I make this claim? I can do so on the basis of what God has revealed about the authority of the state to wield the sword in temporal judgments on his behalf (Romans 13:1-4). President Obama does not bear the sword in vain, and yesterday he used it to enact a justified killing as an act of war in defense of our nation. He did so by God’s delegated authority. What happened yesterday was by no means a full exaction of justice, for a bullet in the head is not sufficient to answer for a lifetime of murderous crimes. There is a future judgment to come when all wrongs will be set right, but now, for Osama bin Laden, we have seen a foretaste of that judgment, enacted by God’s appointed servant, an agent of his wrath in the present age. We should, therefore, give thanks to God that he has appointed such a means to bring a measure of justice to this present age and to aid in protecting us from murderers like Osama bin Laden.
I want to be clear on this: we should resist the subtle (or, in some cases, not-so-subtle) pacifist instinct that would urge us to view this event as more tragic than good. To be sure, it is a tragedy that Osama bin Laden became a murderer in the first place. It is a tragedy that a divine image-bearer could assault the divine image in others to such a degree that Navy SEAL’s became the agents of his demise. For that matter, it is a tragedy that we live in a world where Navy SEAL’s have a role to play at all, a world in which violence is at times necessary to defend the innocent. All of that is understood.
But none of that changes the fact that, given the world that is, and given the person that he was, the death of Osama bin Laden is good news. It is a reason to give thanks and to give credit where credit is due: to our military, to our commander-in-chief, and to our gracious and just God.
Finally, let this foretaste of divine judgment be a warning to us all to flee the wrath to come. Osama bin Laden embodies the kind of rebellious lifestyle that seeks to elude a judgment that cannot be eluded forever. As Johnny Cash sang on his last album,
You can run on for a long time,
run on for a long time,
run on for a long time,
sooner or later gonna cut you down.
Every joyful American who now celebrates the day of reckoning for a notorious sinner but who has failed to reckon with his own sins is one who is merely storing up wrath for himself on the day of wrath when a bullet in the head will appear as nothing (Romans 2:5). Don’t get me wrong: I am not engaging in moral equivalence. I am not saying that the Navy SEAL’s have a right to be putting bullets in all of our heads, as though we are no different from our terrorist enemies. What I am saying is that every foretaste of divine judgment in the present is a gracious reminder to those who continue to draw breath that unless they turn from sin and embrace Christ by faith, they too will perish. Let this reminder stir us once again to a vigilant watch over our souls and a war against sin that is as calculatingly destructive as a special forces operation. Sin is our enemy, and our job is to put it to death and take a satisfying gaze at the corpse lying at our feet:
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.–Romans 8:13
As John Owen said, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” We are in a long war, and the stakes could not be higher. And I’m not talking about the war on terror.