Monday, July 11, 2011

Love and Justice

Just following up with a bit of writing. This is something I wrote for church in the week following Osama Bin Laden's death. Whilst that event has passed, the human instinct to respond to violence with violence has not. I know this because, as you may have noticed in my previous post, I am often tempted to respond that way. Around me, recent conversations and responses to issues of asylum seekers and refugees, the new state of South Sudan, and climate change, amongst many others, have often shown glimpses of the same ugly attitude. I continue to pray the same prayer that ends this article.

“ROT IN HELL” and “Vengeance at last! US nails the bastard”. These were the headlines plastered across newsstands in the USA this week, messages of violence and hateful triumph that are sadly expected from some members of the media sector. They revealed very clear attitudes as to how ‘justice’ is achieved, how things are ‘made right’, how ‘good’ prevails – and they all revolved around violence and revenge, giving the ‘bad guys’ what they ‘deserve’.

As I talked to people and watched the waves of responses on the internet, it was interesting to see how our brothers and sisters that confess to follow Jesus reacted to the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death. And it filled me with sadness to be reminded that, even if we do not spout messages as explicit as the tabloids (mostly!) we often still sell short the glory of the Gospel. In the face of violence – whether from American or Taliban forces – we are tempted to believe that the only possible responses are ‘fight’ or ‘flight’.

When we choose to fight, we fuel the cycle of violence. We try to out-hurt each other until someone ‘wins’. In the case of war, tragically, heart-breakingly, we have seen (and still not learnt) that this defeat often never comes, and is only met with more lives being consumed. Just as gut-wrenching, nations can go to war waving a banner that says ‘God is on our side’, whilst they fight nations carrying a carbon-copy of that banner – both parties believing that God has signed his name on their bullets, that he has ok’d the destruction of lives. I cannot believe in a God of love that wished death upon Osama Bin Laden, no matter how heinous his crimes. When Jesus said, “Love your enemies”, he did not mean, “Unless you have a really good reason, in which case, go ahead and kill them.”

To flee in response to violence, or merely stand back and remain passive simply allows destruction to take place. This is not a more or less suitable alternative to ‘fight’, it is equally inadequate. Jesus did not say, “Be indifferent to your enemies,” or “Ignore your enemies”.

As people of faith, we believe that Jesus was God’s answer, a different way to break free from the pain game. People waiting for the Messiah expected a brawny, militant warrior to rise up and lead the people over the Roman Empire. What they got instead was a man that carried the disarming weapon of love, whose service in suffering was to take on the entire sins of the world – yours, mine, Barack Obama’s, Julia Gillard’s, Osama Bin Laden’s, everyone’s.

Together, we must mourn the destruction of all lives – those lost in 9/11, those lost in the violence following, those of the allied soldiers, and those of the Al Qaeda. Together, we must pray for the kingdom to come, for the real power of love to be present in place of war and violence and through that, for God’s justice to prevail. Together, we must understand that God calls us to participate in the story of love, that we are not called to stand idly by or pick up our weapons, but to beat our swords into ploughs, take up our cross and love our enemies from it.

It is likely many of you will have read this MLK Jr. quote already, but this only affirms the power of its truth:

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Lord, forgive us our sins, only as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into the temptation of turning to armies, war, hatred, and violence as we seek justice; but deliver us from evil, as only your amazing, grace-full love can.


  1. I wish everyone would read this. Good stuff, Ben.

  2. I remember reading this in the Church'n'Home. I also remember watching the tv with with confused emotions of disgust (and confusion?) when I saw so many people gathering together, celebrating the 'glorious' occasion, saying that it was the happiest day of their lives or that their lives were 'fulfilled' now. Personally I know that finding true closure for these people who have lost family etc. would mean forgiving, but I wonder if some of them actually find some trace of true closure in his death. Albeit a bad way for it to come about, I'm not sure whether to feel happy or sad for those people.

  3. EW: Thanks friend.

    JC: Inside Out! You owe $1 to the offering now. I don't doubt that there were some people satisfied with what happened. But I still believe that no good ultimately comes of taking satisfaction in the deaths of others - it still does not 'justify' the death of the one you loved, does not bring them back, and does not take the pain away.

    I understand the relief people would feel that a dangerous man is gone, I may even share that. But I still cannot condone how his life ended or the celebrations of it. This is not what Jesus called for. Mark Sayers has some good thoughts here: