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?

25 thoughts on “Does ‘Love Win’ Osama bin Laden?

  1. While I can speak nothing of Bell’s book, since, to quote the author, I “believe it best to only discuss books you’ve actually read”.

    I do not agree with the assumed premise or conclusion of his book (however knowing what I know about Bell, I wonder if he does in fact draw a conclusion). I am also not of the camp that believes specifically that a conscious ‘postmortem encounter’ is required to find salvation…I say this based on the scriptural understanding that God the Father can and does make His eternal covenant with man even in the absence of physical conciseness.

    I am reminded that throughout the Old Testament the eternal covenant The Father makes with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all happened while they were asleep – dreaming – even literally, in a trance. Suggesting to me that, if they were conscious, their natural/physical realization of what was happening may have hindered their Spirit-Man’s response to the promise.

    I can not justify that physical death is our last hope for salvation unless we “find Jesus” before we die. This would include the millions who die as babies, the billions who lived and died never knowing God or Jesus. Regrettably, the vast majority of all those who have ever lived fall into one of these categories.

    Certainly, as scripture suggests, once a person has heard the responsibility of their response is with them. But, until they hear – where is the encumbrance?

    • I must confess to confusion over “physical conciseness.” I’m also not at all persuaded by your interpretation of the state of consciousness in the patriarchs and what the “Spirit-Man” is, since there is no such phrase in the narratives. What that does/does not say to the question at hand is therefore also uncertain.

      I could wax eloquently in defense of infant baptism on part of your next-to-last paragraph, but that’s another subject for another day.

      But do you mean to say, getting back to the post, that bin Laden had another chance? My sense is that his issue was not of the mind but of the will, which is most often the case in today’s world. I have no direct line to his prospects or lack thereof. Just asking.

      • I suspect that Bin Laden himself had already rejected Christ in this life – and thus, would have no opportunity after death. I am speaking specifically of those who would die without ever having opportunity to hear and respond to the name of Jesus…and in our modern day earth, there are countless millions who have not yet heard. Bin Laden was not among one of the “unreached people groups”.

        The “spirit man” as I refer to is what Paul is referring to in 1 Cor. 2:11 – “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” And then later in 2:14 where he says that natural man does not accept the things come from the Spirit of God, they are foolishness to him, and he can’t understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. Sometimes, in order for The Spirit of The Lord to communicate with man’s spirit – He can only do so in a state of unconsciousness. God made His covenant promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:12-20 while Abraham was in a deep sleep. Again, in Genesis 28:12-15 God made a promise with Isaac while Isaac was sleeping. These promises are eternal, even though they were spoken by The LORD and received in a dream – in a state physical unconsciousness.

      • About that infant baptism waxing… ;)

        I do believe that the practice of infant baptism comes from an incorrect interpretation of scripture that formulated an inadequate doctrine…and not one of baptism, but of human nature.

      • “Incorrect” and “inadequate” are terms which can only come from one who knows the “correct” and “adequate.” Are you really asserting the knowledge of those things to the point of correcting the wisdom of the early church and its scholars, leaders, and martyrs?

      • The early church… those old guys, we’ve progressed, we know so much more than they do, they didn’t have any science, they didn’t have psychology and sociology, they couldn’t keep their nation/empire going for more than 400 years, they didn’t even have texting. Mick Jagger told me to trust no one under 30’s and those guys have got to be almost 2000 years old…..

        But the reality is that I couldn’t write a paper for ETS that required commentaries without using the Church Fathers, thankfully Oden made that much easier than in the past.

        In the canon, “and the whole house” does come to mind with respect to baptism, what does that mean? And while human nature has been raised here as foundational issue, I would respectfully disagree. What is foundational here is the nature of the family. Christ’s church as hellish as it is, is a borrowing from the family, established before the covenants, the cultus of tabernacle and temple, and before (obviously) the church.

        “To whom do I belong” looks like a laughable question to modernity and all the autonomy that we are all suppose to possess, as if we were beamed down by a starship or raised by wolves like romulus and remus. It is a category like an ancient love letter faded by time and the elements, which narrates a relationship that hardly seems relevant but yet if we are honest still evokes (at a minimum) emotion.

        Baptism is about belonging to a family, while I have been a poor son/husband/father I can still recognize that not belonging represents a life of poverty of spirit.

        Now I’m going to go all Schlieirmacher on you, and say I could not tell you when my children got “saved”, there was no “romans road” here, “no four laws”, there was only my poor excuse for love, prayer, relationship, worship, etc, and now their hearts (with many people’s help) are interested in things of faith and missions. They belonged to me, and I belonged to them, and somehow we belonged to Christ.

        I took them to an Anglican Church way back in a valley in Wales where they had to pipe the sunlight into this tiny village, to an ancient church where we sang the old songs in Welch and English, and at the end of the “service” we went to the back of the church for a baptism in a stone baptistry about the size of my jacuzzi, with water about 45 degrees, in a church about 50 degrees in temperature. And all those wizened crofters, farmers, miners, etc gathered with this young couple to receive into their family by Holy Baptism this beautiful child. It was an intense feeling of the sacred, the existential, the really real.

        Afterwards outside (where it was quite a bit warmer), they stuffed slices of cake, dense as lead (but tasty) into your hands in thanksgiving and fellowship. I was a part of their family, and I was glad for it. I had to leave (I was on a circuit), but I would have liked to have stayed longer, for an hour or a month, but it was not to be.

      • Baptism:

        This I understand, and agree…Baptism is about belonging to a family as Noah’s flood and the Exodus through the sea are considered baptisms…

        I see a difference however with this and the practice of infant baptism. And, I am sure you are familiar with the argument. I was “baptized” as an infant – but that made me no more part of a family than sitting in a chicken coop makes me a chicken. The baptisms of the Old and New Testament, however, are of a willful obedience – to leave behind [crucify] something [the old man] for the promise of new life [salvation].

        Augustine, influenced by Platonism & Manichaeism, taught about the nature of man using scriptures like Romans 3, Psalm 51 and other similar passages that allude to all humanity and the natural world being inherently evil….Augustine developed theology by placing Biblical truths upon a foundation that divides the spiritual and the natural.

        I believe that The Church, perhaps since the 4th century, has embraced a false concept of humanity (that all is inherently evil) that has negatively influenced every area of Christianity.

        But, I have to go make dinner…. :)

      • Baptism of households pre-dates Augustine by, oh a couple hundred years; included in the New Testament as a matter of fact. Baptism is not about what we do; it’s about what God does. It is into something. It can be repudiated, but how does that differ from the one who enters by his or her own conscious decision? Do any of those ever deny their belonging to the body and choose to live in a manner different from the body?

      • We’ll come back to Augstine a little later. But let’s talk to you about being a chicken.

        Modernity helps people down the path to the centricism of self, if you reread what I posted, it is not what you think as that baby or the toddler, or the grade schooler, it is what the people of that community think of you, and ultimately what they hope you will think of the them, or in general “the other”, as you mature in Christ.

        The choice of chicken is very appropriate, since i raise them, i have 55 of them now, specifically rhode island red hens. They act in a very particular manner with me or other humans that take care of them. The hens go into submission stance as with a rooster. In other words they think I’m a very very very large chicken.

        Family, Love, perception can be very asymmetric, but for true flourishing (my favorite Dr. Buckwalter term) where we need to get to is ongoing reciprocity.

      • I can agree wholeheartedly with this comment by Dr Miller.

        I know that baptism of the household is present even in the first century – certainly with the interaction between Peter and Cornelius’s household and others. As a side note – I find it particularly exciting in the account in Acts 10 that even while Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came upon the gentiles in power (resulting in speaking in tongues and praises to God) – after which Peter instructs them to be baptized in water…Peter didn’t even get to finish preaching the message, and they found salvation.

        I can somewhat see the connection here with the practice of infant baptism… inclusion into the house (as was in the household of Cornelius).

        But, is the practice of infant baptism then also considered to carry the same trans-formative power as the baptism as Paul is speaking of in Romans 6 and in Galatians 2:20? Or is infant baptism more of a “membership” context where-as Paul’s baptism is putting to death the ‘old nature’…

      • Two thoughts on this. First, does transformation have to be subjectively felt to be real? In other words, is there a certain level of preception involved here? If so, we’ll be left to wonder if our expereinece was good enough. This is not to suggest that the adult convert might not have that sort of subjective response. Second, it is always expected that the baptism of the child is to be confirmed by her or him, which in one sense completes the baptism. If we make too much dependent upon personal decision, what does this say about those who are incapable due to limitations of intellect? Are they not to be considered members of the body? I don’t think we’d want to go there. Baptism as incorporation is a needed emphasis. We have received multiple pictures of baptism (as well as of the Eucharist) and do well to accept all of them.

        A long way from Osama bin Laden, however. Oh well–time for a new post, though discussion of the issue raised here might be wise in another context.

    • Chris, The covenant may have been made while sleeping, but the faith that justified them was carried out while they were awake.

      • Bin Laden rejecting Christ, but which Christ? The self revealed Christ, or the man hidden Christ? As is my penchant, I’m reading a book called Monsoon which has some extensive discussion of one of my least favorite Christian/Histories the Portuguese Empire in the late 15th and 16th centuries. It would be hard for me to see their hatred for Islam and the actions that they took all over the Indian ocean as communicating the self revealed Christ, and that would include (if not especially include) those vocationally charged with doing so. Then I think about my self….let’s not go there.

        Last night I was listening to an orthodox historical Jewish discussion of the Name, and its statutory removal from use being replaced with Baal/Lord/Master. The self disclosure as to what his “personal” name was (YHWH) was removed well before Jesus’s time despite His self revelation or even huge narrative conflicts when it is pointedly used, as on Mt. Carmel. So maybe this is more than just the Portuguese and me……

        I still don’t want to see him, but whether he is there or not, i leave that to my betters

  2. Moltmann is famous for saying “I am not a universalist but I hope God is”, as reported in a number of places including in Annville by his student Miroslav Volf. But there is a new statement made in New York City in 2007 which bears some consideration in your posting: “I am not a Universalist because there are a few people I don’t want to see again, but God may be…”

    Love did try to win Bin Laden, and I am willing to accept that post-corpus/pre-corpus that due to his inability to hear the Gospel in a Sunni Wahabi Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere he has a penultimate last choice.

    But I can’t say I’m looking forward to the opportunity to be with him for eternity

  3. Not to get off point too much, but which sounds more like a Loving God; One who forgave us and saved us all through His Son, and after doing so kept us here to suffer through the pains and sufferings of a fallen world under the guise of the duty of the “Great Commision” when all along it matters not, as the final decision is after the “end” anyway? Or a God who did the first part for a totally undeserving world, and gives all a chance to faithfully believe and choose Him?

    • Doesn’t seem off point at all. Broad thematic movements are important in centering the specifics. While I have not completed the book, his response would be it matters in the here and now. And as a neo-anabaptist, I would have to agree. I have been to places in the world where almost all the sacred has been removed and been replaced by the profane, in the book this is where the author is talking about the limbs chopped off the children, he has seen hell.

    • Marty’s right–it is very much on the point. I brought bin Laden into the discussion as a very poignant example of that very question–what constitutes “a chance” and does it matter? Does the Bible define what a chance is and does it require one at all? Those are serious issues, answers to which are less complete than we sometimes think they are or ought to be. Perhaps that is to tell us to do our assigned work and trust God to do His. He will be faithful in so doing; will I?

  4. This is strictly my opinion with no scripture to back myself up, other than “it is appointed to each man to die once, and then to face judgement.”

    I really love C. S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce.” (I wrote an undergrad departmental thesis using that book as a framework, oddly enough.) These questions always bring me back to the main idea of the book: that those who are in Hell, choose to be in Hell. If given the choice, even with full sight of Heaven, most would rather return to Hell than allow their own will to be broken. So, in the end, it wouldn’t really make a difference, even if God did choose to allow souls to reconsider.

    In day-to-day life, I feel that it’s better for a Christian to believe that God will not give anyone a chance to reconsider after death. We ought to be diligent in sharing the gospel, and a belief that “everyone will get another chance” makes us lazy. But if I find out one day that I was wrong, and that God did extend grace to more souls, I’ll be ok with that. If God chooses to offer Bin Laden a chance to repent and submit, that’s fine by me. But I’m not going to walk through life and relationships assuming that there’s no real urgency.

    • I certainly thought of including a reference to The Great Divorce in the post–more than once. But I try to stay under 750 words, so several ideas were “left behind.” Oh, that’s another subject. Sorry. Your approach is sound. There actually is much to like about Bell’s book, though I might wish for a more completely drawn argument; but I also think he’s gone where Scripture warrants us to go in order to have a position with which we are comfortable, one that will not offend. When that becomes the criterion we are in seriously compromised territory.

  5. It seems to me, that there also may be a differing in understanding of what salvation brings to the believer…

    Am I saved so that I can spend eternity in Heaven? Or is there more to it than eternity?

    Certainly, eternity in Heaven is a great idea. But is that the reason that I am saved?

    And, also what is it that I am saved from…eternal punishment, or is there something more?

    While this isn’t necessarily the subject of this post – what one may or may not believe about this “issue” does have an impact on the response to the question in the post.

    • From the ana-baptist theology that they used to have, it is kingdom living, because the kingdom is here yet not completed. It is virtuous (not self-righteous) living to benefit the other (not myself), in the appropriation of this theology by the missional movement (and from my perspective neo-anabaptist quadrant) it is: the above, plus community, hospitality….. in general living “the story”. I act out the sacred (ala Balthasar).

      This is an era/movement of the Gospels over the Epistles, and I think Bell has capture this. God invested in four Gospel writers so that we might understand his mind/personhood/desires/yourfavoritenoun Then he invested in some clarifications mostly in the context of a church in the Epistles, especially unwinding the Hebrews and their theological predicament who had been foolishly told for hundreds of years that they couldn’t even used the self-revealed personal name of God: YHWH, who would show up with a bunch of wacko’s who said Yeshua is Lord (talk about liturgical shock, makes the worship wars look like a joke). Then we had to have some one time clarification to a raucous church in corinth about their exercise of their gifts, etc…

      In the divine disclosure, man in his evil has attempted to hide this disclosure, in my mind this is about hiding the character of God, to remove or limit the relationship of God with man.

  6. I enjoy reading the speculations of my friends and family, no matter how far afield they may get from the original topic. There are many concepts and even some doctrines about my faith that I refer to as “shelf” issues. These are ideas which sometimes can be fun to debate, sometimes can lead to frustration, and sometimes cause arguments among believers – because our various points of view are rooted primarily in interpretation and opinion, not in solid fact. Unlike the virgin birth or justification by faith, these are topics which I can have fun with, and then put them back on my personal “shelf” and let them go, while I wait for the day when I meet the Lord. On that day I might ask Him what is the correct point of view (though at that point I am unlikely to care anymore).

    I do believe that when we meet the Lord we will be surprised by some of the people we find who are also there with Him – and there will be some who will also be surprised to see us.

    Ken – just wanted you to know you are in my thoughts and prayers today.

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