When I arrived at work the other morning I was greeted with the news, “So they got Bin Laden” My first reaction was of slight incredulity as he has become an elusive icon for violent Islamic fundamentalism over the last 15 years and has been pursued for all of that time by the Americans . Two days ago in a heavily secured compound in Pakistan, elite members of the U.S. SEALS unit stormed the building shooting the terrorist leader through the head. Even the death of such a patently dangerous man should cause us to stop and reflect on the whole issue of the taking of a life. On Facebook I exchanged thoughts on this subject in response to a post by an idealistic (I don’t use that word condescendingly)) young woman who felt that any killing is wrong and there should be a better way. My mind recalled that incredible Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer who during the Nazi regime joined a group who planned to assassinate Hitler. Bonhoeffer described himself as a Christian pacifist but was prepared to live with the consequences of killing Hitler for the sake of the greater good. As it happened Bonhoeffer and his companions were arrested and executed before they could carry out their plan.
Men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King eschewed violence even in the face of very forceful confrontation taking Jesus’ teaching of ‘turning the other cheek’ literally. So through the ages followers of Jesus have responded differently to the problem of evil and the proper response of a child of God to violent attack. My own thoughts on this run along the lines of two possible courses of action at a personal and a governmental level. While Jesus certainly taught non-confrontation in his Sermon on the Mount there is a clear passage in Romans 13 which allows the governing authority to ‘wield the sword’ against wrongdoers. It seems to me that the individual is called to live a peaceful life where we forgive those who wrong us and we do not return evil for evil. In society however it seems that the government has a duty of care towards its citizens to protect them from violent people and those who would do harm. In this context the death of Osama Bin Laden was a justifiable act against a man who had not only admitted his part in the mass murders of thousands of people, but had openly gloried in those terrible acts.
The Bible tells us that God does not delight in the death of the wicked and neither should we. Every mans death is a stark reminder of the present bind of sin upon this whole earth and even the death of a wicked man should give us pause for thought. Bin Laden ended up with his warped philosophy after many twists and turns in his own life and it must be said, the sometimes indefensible activities of Western powers in his own homeland. While his perception of injustices heaped against his people may have been correct , the resolution of them through violence and killing led to his involvement in one awful atrocity after another, with a huge cost in innocent lives lost. The challenge now for the Americans after this coup is to proceed with graciousness and caution not getting caught up in triumphal boasting or reacting gleefully to the death of their greatest enemy. As the philosopher Nietzsche warned, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you. "