When Patriotism and Faith Collide

What is a person to do when two things of great value are in opposition to one another? When our patriotism as an American citizen advocates a particular action and our position as a believer in Christ points in a different direction, what are we to do? That is what happened Sunday evening when the news was broadcast that longtime enemy of America, Osama bin Laden had been killed by American forces.

The first, perhaps spontaneous response from most of us was to rejoice. This was a day that American citizens craved for nearly a decade. This man, one that many would classify as one of the most wicked who has ever lived, was responsible for the death of thousands of Americans. He has caused the entire nation to alter the way we travel and how we gather in large groups. It is hard to imagine that any American would not be elated by the news of this death.

However, many of us are not only Americans; we are also Christians, followers of Jesus. It is hard to imagine Jesus rejoicing in the death of anyone, even one considered as a very evil man. Jesus’ world was filled with evil, malicious men. Babies were slaughtered in Bethlehem in the years after his birth; his beloved friend John was senselessly beheaded; Jewish leaders ruthlessly pursued Jesus own death, yet He never advocated retaliation. He specifically cast aside the approach of “an eye for an eye,” instead calling His followers to “turn the other cheek.” I think it is safe to say that Jesus would not have been among the crowd cheering outside the gates of the White House last Sunday night.

So what is a Christian American (or, American Christian) to do? Perhaps the most common response is to point to Jesus’ words in Mark 12:17 that we should give to Caesar that which is his and to God that which belongs to Him. Some might use these words of Jesus to say that there are times when it is appropriate to be an American and other times when it is not. But I don’t think these familiar words of Jesus apply to this situation. Within the original context, Jesus was not speaking of two things that were in opposition to one another, He was addressing the usage of money. It was not an issue of paying taxes or paying a tithe, there is no conflict between faith and being a tax payer. It is possible to do both.

Sharon and I were watching TV Sunday night when the announcement came on that the President was going to address the nation in ten minutes. It is unusual in this day of instant communication that we need to wait ten minutes for any kind of news. It reminded me of many years ago when people would gather in front of the television or radio and wait for the President to speak to the nation. I recalled those nervous hours gathered in the living room with my family many many years ago as we waited for news about the Cuban missile crisis. This past Sunday, it did not seem like we were going to hear good news.

I immediately switched to an all news network, hoping to get an early report about what the President was going to say. It has been a long time since the President spoke to the nation and we did not know beforehand what he was going to say. However, all they were saying was that it was a matter of national security. I would have to wait for ten minutes – then twenty minutes, and thirty, and ultimately more than an hour later.

When I finally heard the news Sunday night that this terrorist had been killed, my initial reaction was relief. No missile crisis or terrorist threat to worry about! I admit to rejoicing in the situation, but I can honestly say that I did not rejoice in the death of an individual. I didn’t give it much thought. I did think it odd to see people celebrating in the streets, especially a great number of young people who probably have very vague memories of the 9-11 attacks.

But, since I am striving to be honest, I will say that I did not lose any sleep over the death of this wicked, evil, hate-filled man. Perhaps I should have. Numerous Christian writers are trying to make me feel guilty for feeling that this man deserved to die, but I’m sorry, I don’t. I know that God loves all people and that Jesus asked for His executioners to be forgiven, which is a standard beyond my ability. Although it is not appropriate to rejoice in the death of anyone, it is certainly fine to breathe a sigh of relief that this terrible threat is gone. If you can reconcile those two thoughts, you are much smarter than me.

While it is true that God loves all, He is the One who sentences all to die (see Romans 6:23). Sin brings about death, and it is often true that those who are the vilest sinners experience the cruelest deaths. That is called justice.

Justice does not always occur in this life and we should all be thankful for that. But, when it does, that is not a bad thing. Some have suggested that it would have been better if Osama had been taken alive and given a trial in order to satisfy justice. However, he has essentially had a ten year trial, pled guilty on numerous occasions, and received the death penalty at the hands of the state. Justice was accomplished.

What he did not receive was mercy and that is the work of God. Osama was not sentenced to eternal damnation by the American military, that is the task of a higher authority. Perhaps that is what I should be saddened by. Like most Americans, I can’t help but rejoice in the removal of this great threat to our lives. Whether or not he experiences mercy is not mine to know, but I do trust God to do the right thing.

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