Does ‘Love Win’ Osama bin Laden?

While the buzz around two events has subsided somewhat, the residue will continue to be discussed for quite some time, though perhaps not equally or in the same quarters. Let’s think for a moment about the killing of Osama bin Laden from the perspective of Rob Bell’s Love Wins. The first is, of course, an event with worldwide implications; the second is a more parochial discussion among Christians, and not all of those folks are deeply concerned. For those who do care about the reshaping of the gospel suggested by Bell’s book, the “taking out” of bin Laden provides a graphic case for discussion of the author’s thesis.

Bell makes the audacious claim in his sub-title of knowing the fate of every human being who has ever lived. While one might give a nod toward the clear market orientation of such a claim, it does not seem in any way preferable to the arrogance for which conservative Christians are often chastised–Bell himself contributing to the cause. Be that as it may, the claim does follow from the premise that eventually everyone will come to see that God’s loving heart is irresistibly open to them, and that whatever the extent of their misconceptions of God’s character, that love will prevail in winning them over. It may require an extraordinary post-mortem encounter, but it must happen. The only hell the defiant ones will know is what they experience by living outside the circle of God’s embrace for their time in the present world.

One might, for the sake of argument, grant Bell his point regarding the nature of hell. A similar, though more carefully articulated (and in my estimation, more biblically grounded) view is offered in N. T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope. In both books, a corrective is offered to the idea that the content of Christian hope is located in some other place than planet earth, some ethereal place called “heaven.” The Bible is better read by locating the hope in the New Earth, to be established finally by Christ, when resurrection takes place. But my concern here is with who will participate in the new (or renewed) earth. Specifically, is it biblically warranted to believe that Osama bin Laden or any other notorious figure from will eventually find a home there? Does the premise of God’s love for the individual human soul mandate that this conclusion be accepted?

It is indeed difficult to find any supporting arguments from Scripture. One could make a case for the annihilation of such persons from certain passages, but not for the eventual salvation. One could presume them to be among the “dogs” outside the city that has “come down” and in which the presence of Christ is the light; they could be among who will never enter that city. My point is not to advocate for either position, but to note that there is at least some biblical material that can be read in this way. There is none for the implied universalism Bell cannot avoid. What we do have is every indication that judgment ends in separation from God and His people for those who are His enemies–and that there are such is rather evident from the text. That is, there are people who do not want Christ to rule, and actively oppose His doing so. While I did not know the man, it is reasonable to conclude that bin Laden was among them.

Now a note of caution. Whatever his judgment may be, it is not because he opposed the United States that he received it. And it should not be a cause of celebration for Christians as Christians, though it may be something of a relief for Christians as American citizens that bin Laden is dead (though see previous post). I never wish to limit the power and extent of Christ’s atoning work; I am fully satisfied that God will extend it to those to whom He desires to extend it, and that He will be just in doing so. As to the power of the cross, however, there is sufficient love there to cover all unrighteousness. All of it. The question is only of whether the power is made effective for everyone, including bin Laden. I have no biblical basis for believing it is.

BUt what does anyone else think?

The Killing of Bin Laden and the Myth of Progress

By this time blog pages have already hosted virtually every comment that can be conceived in the wake of Sunday night’s announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden. Is there really anything else to say that hasn’t been said numerous times already? Probably not. But after taking a hiatus since the end of the Lent season, the week’s news provides a good point for re-entry. So forgive me for jumping into the overcrowded pool. What I’d like to offer is a set of observations from the perspective of some ten days since the announcement.

One observation is that there isn’t all that much buzz remaining. Think of it–a ten-year mission finally successfully concluded after thousands of thousands of lives cut short, many more forever disrupted, billions of dollars, straining of international as well domestic relations and yet ten days later it is old news. After a few spontaneous celebrations and a bit of posturing and anti-posturing, it seems we have returned to the business at hand, which is finding ways to lower the price of government and gas, not necessarily in that order.

Another observation is that we seem to get it–even though the stated objective of all those lives and dollars was to “take out” the terrorist mastermind responsible for the 9/11 attacks, having done so does not make us feel so much safer after all. There are so many more waiting to take up bin Laden’s mantel, and still another generation who will be motivated to do the same out of revenge for his killing. If anything, we may have succeeded in thwarting some plans for mayhem in the short run, and perhaps will find information leading to the identification of other key figures in the organization. But the level of hostility has been raised, not lowered. One wonders whether mankind will ever learn that vengeance is never complete; and because it is not, there will indeed be wars and rumors of wars until the kingdom of our Lord comes in its fulness.

There are those who continue to be committed to the myth of progress. In spite of the ever increasing numbers of people being killed at the hands of others, secular thinkers in protected ivy covered buildings on pristine campuses, surrounded by upper middle class neighbors continue to spout off about how morality is a genetically based reality if it is anything, and that since evolution is always in a forward direction, we are getting better as a race. The thesis, when measured against real life, is laughable; yet it continues to find more and more life on the campus of virtually every institution of higher education because–well, because the alternative is to acknowledge that the true, the good, and the beautiful have a basis outside of randomly occurring carbon-based life forms. And for Dawkins, Dennett, Singer, and company, that will never do. The fact that our sophistication has to do only with the means we use to abuse one another is painfully obvious, not only in the world of terrorists and international espionage, but in the manner in which internet crime has become so widespread. This, folks, is not progress, no matter how much data our computers and phones (which is it?) may transmit and receive.

A final observation is with regard to Christians, who seem divided between rejoicing over bin Laden’s defeat and trying to respond with sadness over the passing of another soul into a Christless eternity. Inevitably, this involves the perpetual dilemma of living in two kingdoms simultaneously. We are citizens of a national entity which bears the sword for a reason, that being the protection of the citizens and their interests. Yes, we can and perhaps should engage in a discussion of just how widely those interests extend; but in a world of wars both real and rumored, the sword is there for occasions precisely like the one which resulted in the pursuit of bin Laden. But neither the United States nor any other nation is to be identified with the kingdom of God, which is where our “real” citizenship is located. That indicates to me that the kingdom not of this world–though present in it where Christ rules–has a higher claim on my allegiance. We would all like for the USA, or whatever nation we recognize as home, to be patterned more closely to the kingdom of God. Yet until the Lord of the universe returns, evil will continue threaten shores and stores; and the government must continue to offer its protection. And that means that those who do and intend to do harm must be dealt with; and it is cause for gratitude when it happens. But it isn’t progress; it is marking time while the true progress is that of the kingdom of God gaining its claim over more and more lives.

So much more could be said–but I’ll invite readers to say it.