On the plains of Jordan
I cut my bow from the wood
Of this tree of evil
Of this tree of good
I want a kiss from your lips
I want an eye for an eye
I woke up this morning to an empty sky
—Bruce Springsteen, "Empty Sky," The Rising (RCA, 2002)
I remember turning on BBC just as the second plane hit the World Trade Center. I was in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, having just interviewed the Uzbek Defense Minister. We had discussed how the U.S. and Uzbekistan might work more closely on terrorism, since Osama bin Laden lived across Uzbekistan's southern border in Afghanistan.
My wife soon called from the States as we experienced together the full scope of our humanity: from tears to rage. As the above lyrics lament, our sorrow wanted Old Testament justice.
This weekend, the perpetrator of 9/11 learned that there are consequences for sin. Those consequences are sometimes delivered by governments whose responsibility is justice (Rom. 13:3-5; 1Pet. 2:14)—even if their bows, according to their condition, may yield evil with the good.
Indeed, since it is a "dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31), we are also humbly reminded of and hopefully repent of our own sin.
And we remember anew that God's Son lived, died, and today teaches a New Testament, calling each of his believers to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:44-45).
I didn't love bin Laden. And I can count on one hand the number of times I prayed for him over the past ten years. My heart convicts me—forgive my sin, dear God—but I have no qualms about his death, or how he died.
I do know, however, that it is not a time for celebration.The God of history is quite clear:"As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live" (Ezek. 33:11).
Bin Laden's death, instead, should be a time for somber reflection. We should be grateful for justice, even as we renew our call to live out the message of reconciliation "as though God were making his appeal through us" (2 Cor. 5:19-21).
For example, when I was in Pakistan last week, I spent many hours with a freely-elected Islamist leader that I have come to know over the past five years. His hometown is in the heart of Taliban country, at the divide between North & South Waziristan, along the Afghan border.
There are many things, political and theological, on which we will never agree, including the nature and purpose of Christ. In fact, both of us would like nothing more than to see the other choose our faith. In the meantime, however, we have learned that there are many things we hold in common, especially a belief in justice, mercy, compassion, and peace.
My friend has taught me to see the world through his eyes. In doing so, he has made me a better Christian. I no longer understand him as an enemy but as a neighbor that Jesus commands me to love.
During one of our conversations, he asked how important Osama bin Laden was to America. I replied that emotionally, the death or capture of bin Laden was critical to bringing as much closure as possible to Americans, especially those who had lost loved ones because of his terrorist attacks; e.g., the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (1998), or the Pentagon and the World Trade Center (2001).
Strategically, however, bin Laden was irrelevant, I continued. Al Qaeda's influence is waning throughout the Muslim majority world—how many bin Laden pictures did you see in Egypt's Tahrir Square?—and al Qaeda's approval rating in Pakistan has been below 20% for a couple of years now.
Instead, the real threat to America, and Pakistan, is the Pakistani "Taliban" (which is actually several groups) operating out of North Waziristan.
The Pakistani Army, however—despite significant campaigns and serious casualties in the surrounding areas—has never made a full-fledged effort to rid North Waziristan of the Taliban. The army believes, in part, that it may need the Taliban to guard against the possibility of an unfriendly Afghan government to its west, therefore freeing the army to focus on its arch-enemy, India, to the east.
As a result, U.S. drone strikes—our bows of justice—have increased in North Waziristan, usually with permission from the Pakistani government, which the Pakistani public nevertheless takes as an insult to their sovereignty.
The combined result of these complex dynamics is twofold. Many terrorists have been killed. Likewise, however, too many civilians (including women and children) have also been killed. There is no shortage of motivated family and tribe members who want an eye for an eye. They seek their vengeance against the Pakistani government and military because they support America.
During my visit last year, the former head of Pakistan's intelligence services told me that when these homegrown terrorists attacked a suburban Islamabad mosque frequented by the Pakistani military, they looked for women and children, shouting: "How do you like it when your women and children are killed?"
Estimates vary, but Pakistani terrorists have killed over 4,000 innocent, mostly Muslim, civilians throughout Pakistan in the last two years. Indeed, once a local movement, elements of the Pakistani Taliban are now going global against the U.S. (They catalyzed last year's terrorist attempt at New York City's Times Square.)
In this complicated context, Christians should be praying. Pray for U.S. and Pakistani officials. Pray for renewed dialogue that is as candid as it is constructive.
Pray that Muslim leaders—in every vocation—will have the courage to live out their belief that the killing of fellow Muslims is un-Islamic, standing up to the terrorists. The real religious freedom issue in the Muslim majority world is not how Muslims treat minorities, but how Muslims treat each other.
Pray for minority faiths in Pakistan, who are at risk. In particular, pray for the Christian community in Gujranwala, home to the largest seminary in Pakistan, where a father and son were accused of defacing the Qur'an. Rioting recently resulted and the situation remains tense, despite the swift action and protection by the police and the testimony of a handwriting expert that they did not deface the Qur'an. Pray that local leaders and citizens do not associate these Christian Pakistanis with America, or the strike against bin Laden.
Pray for more people-to-people relations between America and Pakistan, such as the relationship I have with my Islamist friend. It is these relationships of reconciliation that break down the walls of misunderstanding, creating the possibility of mutual respect and peace. Pray that you might be given a meaningful relationship with a Muslim in your own community.
Finally, pray for wisdom and stamina. This stuff isn't for sissies. As Jesus forewarned: "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves" (Matt. 10:16).
The times are too many when I have been less than shrewd, less than innocent, as I have journeyed into the Islamic world. It is not an easy thing to let go of stereotypes and preconditions, but I am learning.
It gets easier, I have found, the more I rely on the One who died for his enemy, for my sin. After all, did this Jewish rabbi not engage the enemy Samaritan at the well in mid-day (John 4)? Did this Prince of Peace not forgive his enemies on the cross when nobody asked (Luke 23:34)?
Do we dare aspire to anything less?
Chris Seiple is president of the Institute for Global Engagement. "Speaking Out" is Christianity Today's guest opinion column and (unlike an editorial) does not necessarily represent the opinion of the publication.
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Gideon Strauss of the Center for Public Justice, Michael Horton of Westminster Seminary, and Warren Larson of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies also consider Christian responses to Osama bin Laden's death.