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?