Many people are celebrating because Osama Bin Laden has finally been caught and killed after a ten year manhunt following the 911 terrorist attacks. A lot of the comments in news articles that I’ve been reading talk about Osama being brought to justice – his death being what he deserved. The Times this morning led with the headline: ”Justice is Done!” For sure, Bin Laden’s death has been a cause for celebration for most people with just the cautious few noting that although his death is hugely symbolic not much has changed and there is little cause for celebration.
So has Bin Laden been brought to justice? Is death what he deserved? Was there not a case for taking him alive and bringing him to trial? (Reports claim that he refused to surrender, even hiding behind his wife as the special forces came in. I can see why they did not take him alive so as to give him more of a platform to speak during the trial and rally his troops.)
If this is what Bin Laden deserved, I’m struck by the contrast to some other criminals – those who evade capture for so long and die in peace and quiet in exile such as Idi Amin of Uganda who died in peace in Saudi Arabia. Or Jose Mengele, the Nazi officer who worked at Auschwitz who died from a massive stroke in exile in Brazil in 1979 at the age of 68 whilst out for his afternoon swim. Or those who, after a killing spree, turn the gun on themselves. None of these people ever faced trial. So often in these cases the voices commenting remark how it is a shame that they will now never be brought to justice, because they are dead.
So is death justice for some people and the avoidance of justice for others? Or does it simply depend on how they die? Is it that a death at the hands of others = justice? And at the hands of themselves or old age = injustice? See how human ideas of what is just change depending on the circumstances.
I wonder if this stems from the perspective that this life is all there is, and that everyone is ‘owed’ a 70-90 year existence. Therefore for those who commit crimes and die early, that is justice done as they have been deprived of 30 or 40 years that were ‘due’ to them. For those that get away with their crimes and die at a respectable age, it is perceived that justice has not been done. However, from a perspective that this life is not all there is, and that there is another life to come, this argument disappears. In the Christian worldview, judgement follows death and resurrection follows judgement and eternal life follows that. In this case, nobody escapes judgement.
Make no mistake that Osama Bin Laden, along with Idi Amin, Josef Mengele and many others have not escaped justice. They have appeared before the judgement seat of God which is far more terrifying than any human court of law. This is justice for them.
But is it not also justice for us? – for we will all die and have to stand before God. If they will be judged after death, will we not also? When we get there, are we confident that God will rule in our favour measured against the yardstick of his justice which never changes? Will we get what we deserve? and if so, what is that?
My reaction to Bin Laden’s death is a quiet satisfaction that the long hunt has been successful, but it is not a cause to rejoice. (How are we supposed to feel?) His death is a reminder that, despite the position and life that I currently enjoy, despite my good health and the hope of years ahead of me, death is coming to all of us. The reaction is to turn our heads towards God and ask for mercy through Jesus, the justice-giver, when our time comes.
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes… For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith. (Rom 1:16-17)