I woke up this morning to the alarming news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan. My first response was a bit of cynicism. Could it really be true? Hadn’t he been dead for years now? I thought he was hiding in a cave in Afghanistan? As I read various reports about the mission that resulted in his death, I was surprised to read about the number of celebrations over his death. One report quoted Sec. of State Hillary Clinton as saying that Osama’s death was a victory over Al Qaeda. Really, a victory?
What did we really accomplish in killing an aging, already dying man (supposedly Osama was having bad kidney problems)? One terrorism analyst said that it was an enormously significant moment in the fight against al Qaeda terrorism, but I find that hard to believe. All along, the U.S. government has been saying how difficult it is to fight al Qaeda because they are not centralized, but rather operate as individual cells. I also remember reading an article that talked about how if you killed Osama, four more like him would arise.
Regardless of your opinion on the significance of this killing, this fact remains. There is something about retributive justice that is at the core of our existence. In order for a wrong to be made right, someone must pay. Retributive justice is the kind of justice in which the perpetrator is punished for his wrongdoing. This kind of justice motivates vengeance and wrath. It’s the kind of justice that causes a city, an entire nation even, to celebrate the death of one man in some remote corner of the world, and call it a victory over an ideology (if that’s possible).
This need for justice also lies at the core of the Gospel. I often hear objections to the need for the cross in the form of, “why can’t God just forgive? Isn’t he love?” But this rejects our intrinsic understanding of the need for justice. The Osamas of the world have to pay. The war’s not over until he’s dead. We can’t just forgive because of what he stands for. We know that evil must be punished, and maybe the problem that people have with the Gospel isn’t so much the notion of a God who won’t forgive, but rather our desire that the rules should apply to everyone else but ourselves. We want justice in the world, but we don’t want it in our world.
The incredible news is that God takes the retribution reserved for a billion Osamas and puts it on the only One who deserved no such retribution. Even more, Jesus willingly takes the full blunt of retribution upon himself in a preservation of justice and a demonstration of love. And much like a post-Osama United States, all of creation rejoices over this victory. But unlike today’s celebrations, his was unequivocally a REAL victory.