When I learned of Osama bin Laden’s death, my immediate reaction was indifference. I didn’t share the jubilant response that seemed to be sweeping the nation, and I didn’t feel much of a sense of relief, either. Then, for a very superficial reason, I realized I was called to more than indifference: I looked at a picture of bin Laden and for a split second I thought, “Jesus Christ probably looked a little bit like that.” It doesn’t seem very spiritually meaningful, but this moment made me think about what it truly means to see Christ in everyone.
Jesus Christ suffered and died for everyone. He freely offers salvation for all who accept it. He shares in our joys and sufferings, and provides a channel for us to participate with God. Most relevantly, since Jesus’ purpose is to reconcile God and man, His sacrifice is made most profound by the presence of those most separated from God. Literally seeing the face of Christ in the face of Osama bin Laden forced me to accept that he too is entitled to the promise of reconciliation with God. Regardless of what bin Laden chose to do with what was given to him, I’m called to see Christ in him, and even working through him.
Seeing Christ in Osama bin Laden is pretty difficult since he committed atrocities that appear to be devoid of Christ. In fact Osama bin Laden provides us with an excellent example of what happens when you begin to say “no” to God. Those small “nos” turn into a chasm between you and God, which Christ ultimately offers to bridge. So, for one thing, bin Laden can serve as a reminder that we are all fallen.
But since he is our brother in the human race — a fellow child of God — we actually have to hope that he found salvation. We can hope that he felt remorse for causing suffering, especially towards the end of his life, when much of his time was spent in hiding. We can hope that perhaps Osama bin Laden was mentally unstable, and that this prevented him from appreciating the effect of his actions, or even compelled him to behave in the way he did.
Regardless, we need to hope that bin Laden was afforded the same mercy we all pray for, and that he is in Heaven. The fulfillment of our humanness is reconciliation with God. God’s purpose for Osama bin Laden must also have been eventual reconciliation with God. God doesn’t will that anyone go to Hell, so we challenge God’s will if we express a wish that Osama bin Laden is in Hell. Our hope must be that God’s will be done.
Christ knows that he has betrayers. That’s part of the deal. Judas was essential to the salvation event. Christ’s words when Judas came to betray him are telling: “Friend, do what you are here to do.” (Matthew 26:50). Ultimately, Judas was, as the NIV puts it, “seized with remorse,” and took his own life (Matthew 27:3-4). Christ offers all of us his friendship, knowing that we will betray him. Let’s hope that Osama bin Laden was similarly seized with remorse and accepted that offer of friendship.
Originally published on May 16th, 2011.