Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama bin Laden, Judas Iscariot, and Justice

News outlets show video of celebrations in New York and D.C. People are happy. Osama bin Laden, wanted terrorist and mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks has finally been brought to justice.

In a scene Americans have anticipated since shortly after the attacks, U.S. Special Forces conducted a night raid on bin Laden’s hideout, killing him and extracting his body. His grave is the sea, and if a shrine or memorial is erected, it will not be over his tombstone.

I will not betray an air of humility or hyper-spirituality by saying I mourn for Osama bin Laden. I have prayed for his salvation. I prayed that he would realize the deep wickedness that he had plunged into and turn and repent. I would have gladly rejoiced in his salvation.

Osama bin Laden has taken on the personification of evil in our day, compared to the devil on many occasions. However, if we are to think biblically about this man and his recent death, I think it appropriate to compare him not to the devil, but to another man who was quite literally controlled by the devil: Judas Iscariot.

Just as the name “Osama bin Laden” conjures up images and thoughts of evil, treachery, and wickedness, so too does the name “Judas Iscariot.” In fact, as bad as bin Laden was, he will never replace Judas as the man most associated with treachery.

The gospel writers make it clear that Jesus knew from the outset of his ministry that Judas would betray him (cf. John 6:64). He says in John 6:70, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.”

Judas was a thief (cf. John 12:6). He handled the money that supported Jesus’ ministry and helped himself to it. As a matter of fact, he even criticized Mary for “wasting” her expensive perfume, arguing that it could have been sold and the money gone to the poor. He didn’t say it because he cared for the poor, but because he wanted to have access to that kind of money.

In all of the New Testament there is not one positive reference to the man. Even when the gospel writers are merely listing off the twelve disciples, Judas comes last and always has some form of the moniker, “who betrayed him.”

Despite modern attempts to portray Judas as misunderstood, there is nothing of any historical credibility that suggests the man was anything other than a traitor. He betrayed Jesus, was struck by regret, and decided to end his life at the end of a rope.

There is no indication that Judas was saved and every indication that he was not (regardless of what Rob Bell or Craig Gross says). Jesus himself says, “For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mark 14:21). I can’t imagine that Judas is in heaven right now thinking, “I wish I hadn’t been born.”

So Judas and Osama are alike in the relative confidence we have that they did not trust in Christ and are not in heaven. Given Jesus’ testimony about Judas, it is more likely that Osama could have repented at the last minute than Judas did.

But let’s not kid ourselves. We’re not at the funeral of a loved one here saying, “Maybe he believed right before the end.” We’re talking about someone in whom we have absolutely zero confidence that he saw the light at the end.

So given that Judas and Osama are likely facing the same end, I think our thoughts about the one can inform our thoughts about the other. In Acts, the last reference to Judas Peter calls on the believers to select a person to replace the apostate apostle. There is no mourning over Judas’ fate. There is no rejoicing either. Hence, I am hesitant to do either in the case of Osama bin Laden.

Perhaps that tension is necessary when we consider the fate of the wicked. In the end, is Osama bin Laden any more deserving of hell than the nice old lady who’s an atheist down the street? Is she any less deserving? God’s pronouncement in Ezekiel is one we should consider, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (18:23).

I do not rejoice in bin Laden’s death. I prayed. I hoped for a miracle. In the end bin Laden went on to the end he was destined for (1 Peter 2:8).

Revelation 6:10 speaks of believers in heaven pleading with God, “They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” This longing is in my heart as well and can only be partially satisfied this side of heaven. A gunshot wound is not justice. Justice will only be meted out by God. So the death of bin Laden is only partial justice.

It is only when Christ comes and establishes His kingdom that I can truly rejoice in God’s judgment of the wicked because it will be complete and God-glorifying. I plan to withhold my rejoicing until then.

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