What the Bible Has to Say on the Killing of Osama bin Laden

While the media is abuzz about President Obama's decision not to release photos of Osama bin Laden's corpse and whether it was legal to kill the unarmed al-Qaida leader, Christians are weighing some spiritual questions that the debate is raising.

Did those who killed bin Laden have authority to do so? Did bin Laden deserve to die? And is every sin the same in God's eyes?

Kevin DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich., tackles the questions as details on how the killing of bin Laden actually went down continue to emerge and continue to spark debate about the legality of it all.

The evangelical pastor contends that only God has the authority to take human life.

"But," he adds in his blog, "God has ordained that he should exercise that right through the power of the state."

Citing the New Testament passage Romans 13:4, the evangelical pastor identified governing authorities as God's servants to do good.

"The Navy SEALs that raided bin Laden's compound did not violate the sixth commandment (Thou shalt not kill) because, as the Heidelberg Catechism says, 'Prevention of murder is also why government is armed with the sword.' Surely, this was an instance where the U.S. military, by killing bin Laden, was acting in an effort to prevent more American citizens from being murdered."

Attorney General Eric Holder came out strong Wednesday, defending the Navy SEALs' action to kill bin Laden at a compound in Abbottabad, 30 miles northeast of Pakistan's capital Islamabad.

"Let me make something very clear: The operation in which Osama bin Laden was killed was lawful," he told the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to The Associated Press. The raid "was justified as an action of national self-defense" against "a lawful military target."

The statement was made after the White House revealed that the terrorist was not armed during the 40-minute U.S. operation on Sunday (ET).

Holder noted that there was no indication that bin Laden wanted to surrender and even if he did put his hands up, there would have been a good basis for the soldiers to shoot him in order to protect themselves and others in the building, such as women and children.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also said the U.S. operation was justified and did not violate international law.

"The bottom line here is that the founder of al-Qaida has been responsible for the death of thousands of innocent people, and I think it has been justified to carry out this operation against him," he said.

From a biblical standpoint, DeYoung acknowledges that Jesus condemned private retaliation, vigilante justice and hatred. But he also stresses that the Gospels did not overturn the Jewish understanding that some warfare was justified.

Weighing in on the debate of whether bin Laden deserved to die, the Michigan pastor points to the Old Testament passage of Genesis 9:6: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image."

"Capital punishment for murder is not an assault on the image of God, but a defense of it," he notes in his blog. "It is because human life is so precious, that the taking of human life needs to be punished so severely. The principle of 'eye for eye, tooth for tooth, wound for wound' (Exod. 21:23-25) was not a matter cruel and unusual punishment, but of controlled retribution as a means of protecting the community and valuing the dignity of human life."

Aware of the objection some Christians may present, that "we all deserve to die," DeYoung says, "We all deserve condemnation apart from God's grace, but some deserve death now because some sins are worse than others and some sinners commit more egregious sins."

Stepping into the more theological and perhaps more polarizing debate of whether all sins are equal, DeYoung first makes clear that every sin "renders us liable to God's judgment."

"[A]ny sin committed against an infinite God deserves punishment. We're all born sinners. We all sin. Every sin deserves death."

He admits it's a popular sentiment and a sign of genuine humility when Christians say "I deserve God's wrath too."

In the case of bin Laden, he recognized that there is "a perverse kind of sentimentality that makes Americans eager to sympathize with suffering and almost incapable of celebrating justice," he told The Christian Post.

But the notion that every sin is the same in God's eyes is a half-truth, he contends.

"Not every bit of iniquity is equally offensive. Some sins are high-handed. Some are premeditated. Some are slip ups. Some are habitual. Some are contrary to nature. The Law did not demand the same penalty for every infraction. Neither did Jesus."

Pointing to several biblical passages, DeYoung cites Numbers 15:29-30 in differentiating between unintentional sins and those done "with a high hand;" Jeremiah 32:35 in showing how some sins in Israel's history were more notorious than others; and Matthew 10:15 where Jesus suggests some people will be judged more severely on the day of judgment because they had reason to believe.

"We do not promote the glory of the Gospel by pretending that no one is more righteous or more wicked than anybody else," he stresses. "Some sins so destroy the image of God that those who commit them deserve destruction."

Bin Laden claimed responsibility for the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, that killed some 3,000 people and destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City. President Obama is visiting ground zero Thursday to lay a wreath in honor of the victims and first responders.

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