Posted by: smstrouse | May 7, 2011

Love Your Enemy: OMG-OBL-WWJD?!

It is now almost a week since we heard the news of the death of Osama bin Laden.  A young man asked me this question the day after: “If bin Laden is going to hell for killing people, isn’t the person who shot him going to hell too – you know ‘Thou shalt not kill’?”

I didn’t get into a theological discussion with him about whatever ‘hell’ might be. (I liked the definition of one late night comedian who said that Osama was met in the afterlife not by 72 virgins, but 72 vegans).  But I did respect his dilemma about the appropriate response from a spiritual perspective. It’s the same dilemma faced by Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer decades ago: is it ever morally and theologically acceptable to use violence in order to stop violence? His conclusion was that in the case of Adolph Hitler, it was. And he was hanged by the Nazis in 1945 for his part in an assassination plot.

For the past 4 days we’ve seen various reactions to the news: from crowds chanting “USA! USA! USA!” as if we had just won an Olympic hockey game to President Obama’s meeting with family members of 9/11 victims and first responders in New York City and solemnly laying a wreath at Ground Zero.

But what is my response as a person of faith?  Do I take seriously the words of Jesus: “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor – but hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.”   It sounds so good coming from the mouth of Jesus. But the thought of loving Osama bin Laden goes against every instinct. What would Jesus have done in the face of such a heinous crime? Would he condone the killing of this enemy?

As a person of faith, I don’t think I should answer these questions too quickly. Hearing the news of bin Laden’s killing through the ears of faith, creates a challenge, a dilemma, a dissonance in me that is not easily resolved by either a simplistic ‘Thou shalt not kill’ response or a patriotic “USA! USA! USA!’ chant.

Bonhoeffer wrestled mightily with the question in his day. It is incumbent upon us to do the same in ours.  After almost a week of celebrating this death of an admittedly dangerous individual, are we as a nation examining our own conscience?  Are we, as people of faith, going beyond the easy answers into the much more complicated realm where our spiritual beliefs intersect with the realities of the world?




  1. A regular diet of mainstream media news may be a recipe for depression.
    I saw a neighbor from around the corner who looked as if she may be originally from another part of the world, but when I smiled at her, the sweet, warm smile I was given in return was the best news I had all day. As for the killing issues, I just don’t get it, never have. one biblical phrase comes to mind “Jesus wept”


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