Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Gospel and News of Osama Bin Laden’s Death

This idea has been floating in my head since Sunday night when I heard the good news, (the gospel) of Osama Bin Laden’s death.
I received it as gospel in any case, that is good news. That is what the word gospel means, good news. Perhaps it has come to have a few more connotations connected with it today. It seems to have become code word for any religious message. But that is not what it means at its root, even if it is used in that way today. One might say that even in Paul’s day it began to take on the tone of “religious message” as in Galatians Paul writes: Galatians 1:6-9 (ESV)
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— [7] not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. [8] But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. [9] As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. “
It becomes apparent in the rest of Galatians that this “other Gospel” is no gospel at all, it is not even news, much less good news, but law. Of course, the old Adam in us is always trying to turn the gospel into law. Most “Christian” denominations tend to do this in one way or another. Even English translations of Holy Scripture have an ungodly tendency to do this when they translate upakouw as obey, rather than listen, or pay attention; it comes up with oxymoronic translations like “obey the gospel” which is as silly as “obey the good news.” How do you obey the good news? How do you say, obey the news that Bin Laden is dead?
And it was good news, perhaps even is good news. It took a while for it all to sink in to me when I heard it. My first reaction was more or less, oh good. I at first thought, well the war goes on, it probably won’t change much, was he even in charge anymore? What difference is this going to make. But then I saw how others were reacting to it. College students gathering and cheering rallying around the flag, people who had spent their entire adolescence scarred by that man who escaped judgment for so long. Who hasn’t been scarred by it in America, indeed in the world. People blame Bush for two wars, I blame Bin Laden. Friends and family, members of my community all having to sacrifice their own children, their dad’s their moms for war, going on ten years. Wars I believe needed to be fought. Yet, I and the nation would probably have thought different if it wasn’t for Bin Laden and his likes. He’s dead. It is good news, and worth celebrating.
We can debate if it might have been better news that he had converted to Christianity. I might have prayed it a few times, but I don’t think I really ever held out much hope for it. Perhaps it was the sinner in me. The best of the probable options came to pass on Sunday night, Americans carried out justice and visited violence on the head of Bin Laden. We garnered untold amounts of intelligence, and dealt a huge blow to the psyche of Al Qaeda . We got our man. America pulled off a commando raid that will be celebrated for history, demonstrating to the world that Israel isn’t the only country that can do that sort of thing, and that we do mean business. It was good news, and the reaction perhaps demonstrates what the reaction of faith is to the Gospel.
Immediately as people were alerted on their cell phones they began evangelizing. I was watching it on the news as I poured myself a Brandy. People were approaching each other on the streets and asking have you heard the good news? Spontaneous celebrations broke out on the streets. Some had mixed feelings about the whole business. I heard a comedian say he hopes he never again feels so good at the death of a man as he did that night. I can second that. But I doubt anyone can say they didn’t feel some degree of satisfaction, some degree of joy, even if they were a little embarrassed to admit it to their self-righteous old Adam.
Immediately, it was Christians trying to splash cold water on this good news, quoting verses mostly out of context, about God not desiring the death of the wicked, and proverbs about not rejoicing when your enemy falls, but failing to quote the next line which puts a completely different spin on this verse than the first part indicates by itself: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls; and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, [18] lest the Lord see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him. “ I mean the whole point of not rejoicing there is the hope that your enemy will continue to be plagued by the wrath of God. Perhaps the Christian thing to do then would be to rejoice when your enemy falls!
In any case, I could not bring myself to agree with these brothers, and many of them became very upset with me because of it. They didn’t think it becoming of a Christian, much less a pastor rejoice in this. Of course Israel celebrated sang and drank when Pharaoh was defeated, in fact celebrating the death of Pharoah’s Son is mandatory in the Jewish faith to this day, one can say that it is really just the deliverance of the Israelites that resulted from that death that they are celebrating, but this is just semantics. Semantics almost as bad as saying we aren’t celebrating Bin Laden’s death, so much as a job well done by SEAL Team Six. If it makes you happy… but I think most are going to fail to see the difference. It is like Israel not celebrating the death of Goliath, but the battlefield prowess of David. They celebrated David because he killed their enemy. We wish we didn’t have to do that, kill enemies. I wish praying for them and loving them would be enough, but not even Jesus would make the argument that a soldier shouldn’t also thrust his sword into the enemy he is to love in the midst of battle, or put a bullet in the guy’s head. Jesus we must remember, praised the faith of at least one commander, of the Roman Army! And did not bid that man to quit his job before he healed his servant. Jesus is not as adverse to war as his admonition to turn the other cheek would seem make out on first blush.
No, I could not go along with my brothers and sisters in Christ on that one, as they tried calling me to repentance, I thought it just might be them that need to repent on this issue. This was good news, something to celebrate. That is what you do with Good News, you celebrate it!
And we have better news than the fact that bin Laden is dead. The good news us Christians are called to share and celebrate is the resurrection of Christ that overcomes, conquers and defeats not just some earthly enemy of flesh and blood, but the world who will put us to death more sure than Bin Laden’s minions will. Rather than chastise those people for celebrating, I thought we might take a lesson about what we do with the good news we have. Tomorrow the joy, satisfaction whatever you want to call it that came with the good news of Bin Laden’s death will wear off. As once again the world confronts us with the reality of our own death to come. But the good news of Jesus Christ and his resurrection? That doesn’t wear off, that gives life, that is something worth celebrating, that gives life meaning, that gives life purpose. It gives us reason to love, and reason to live, reason to live and love life, our own life and the life of others, a love that might lead us to sacrifice our own life for others, a love for life that leads many to protect that life and the peaceable life of others by taking out a man like Bin Laden.
And it is that which I think speaks volumes about the Christian faith and the gospel. Finally it frees a person to live, as life can only be lived in love. It frees a person to mourn the death of a friend, and celebrate the death of an enemy who would prematurely take the life of a friend. It gives one over to a self abandonment, but a self abandonment of love for life and neighbor that is different than a self abandonment that tries to escape life and its joys and sufferings, its responsibilities and the benefits thereof, but a self abandonment that says go ahead enjoy life and love it, in the midst of sorrow as well as in the midst of jubilation. It gives us reason to gospelize our neighbors, and invite them to enjoy life as they never have before. It is gospel it is good news, it is not something you can obey, it is not a list of rules, it is good news that says Jesus died to forgive your sins, and rose to give you life! Now live it.
On a side note, there is the reaction of the skeptics. “I haven’t seen the pictures. How do I know he is really dead?” Who really believes that Bin Laden isn’t dead? If Bin Laden wasn’t dead, do you not think that we would have heard from him already? Do you not think that his live body would not have been by now produced an audio tape or something? But we have not even had anyone try to do this with a forgery. It is telling. These people look as silly as skeptics to the Good News of Christ’s resurrection. And those people do look a bit silly from my vantage point. They latch on to all sorts of conspiracy theories to hold on to their belief. “the disciples stole the body.” “Jesus was an Alien.” “It was his twin brother” He only appeared to die, but had only fainted whilst the soldier ran him through.” Or the funniest one I have heard to date, “He never existed, but was a roman conspiracy to tame the Jews.” It is silly nonsense, and for what? Why do they refuse to believe? What is their fear? Why should one fear the forgiveness of sins, so as to grab hold of silly theories that don’t hold water to deny the death and resurrection? “What do conspiratists get for not believing Osama is dead? I don’t know. But when it comes to THE GOSPEL of Christ’s death and resurrection, perhaps it is the butchering of law and gospel that Christians are so often guilty of when we make the gospel out to be something that should be obeyed rather than celebrated, that is to blame. People know they can’t live up to God’s Law. Just a thought.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

You mean people didn't need to be instructed by you, "No, go tell people that Bin Laden is dead"? That as they recognized something joyous, they simply shared it? Wow....

Bror Erickson said...

Exactly Eric, Exactly!