The death of Osama bin Laden has reminded me of the recent discussion surrounding Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, about who might end up in hell. It is interesting that modern discussions about such matters invariably find a way to put ourselves in the category of the “righteous” and hell is reserved for Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin and Osama bin Laden. The Scriptures point us in a different direction. Paul is determined to silence the endless self-righteous talk which ends in self-justification, whether stemming from Jews who live under the Law or Gentiles who do not know the Law, but only have their own conscience. Paul finally bluntly declares that God’s righteousness is being revealed “so that every mouth may be silenced” (Rom. 3:19).
This is important because as Christians we must recognize that the evil which we so often want to identity in the “other” is actually in us as well. We are capable of all the atrocities which we find so unimaginable, such is the depth of human depravity. Osama bin Laden was, through his death, sent to a higher court for final judgement. Someday we will stand at that same bar of judgement. Paul declares that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10). The only hope for any of us is in the grace which God has revealed in Jesus Christ. He is the only one truly righteous. Death, floods, earthquakes and tornadoes are all regular reminders of human frailty and that the whole of creation is “not right.” We must cast ourselves on the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Let Osama bin Laden’s death be a reminder not of the wickedness in the “other” who has “finally gotten what is due him,” but rather a sobering and humbling reminder of the nature of the human race to which we all belong. Augustine wisely said that we are sinners by birth and by choice. The whole human race is in rebellion against God. We are “in Adam” and we are willful participants in that seminal rebellion. The fundamental struggle of our time – or any time – is not about the West versus radical Islam. The struggle is between the righteousness of God and the rebellion of the human race against God’s righteousness. We are all part of that rebellion, right along with bin Laden and Pol Pot. Until we see ourselves in the Cambodian killing fields, the falling Twin Towers and Nazi concentration camps we really haven’t fully grasped the depth of our own human fallenness, nor the height of God’s amazing grace in Christ.