Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) wrote, “Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.”
On Sunday, May 1, President Obama announced that United States forces had found and killed Osama bin Laden. The frenzy on Twitter and Facebook was unprecedented. As one friend tweeted: “Osama is dead and by the looks of it, he’ll take Twitter down too.”
Something I noticed on the social networks was Christians arguing over the way to respond to this news. Some were defiantly callous: “Thank God bin Laden is rotting in hell tonight.” (Ouch!) Others were mourning the death of one who would never have a chance to meet Jesus, and were castigating other believers for attitudes of judgment toward other human beings.
Many were caught in the middle and were reaching for a reasonable and biblical response. I could sense online the weight of the struggle between being happy that a monster was gone and embracing Jesus’ command to “ ‘love your enemies, do good to those who hate you’ ” (Luke 6:27, NKJV).
Bonhoeffer wrestled with this very thing before he joined with others in a plot to assassinate Hitler. The answer did not come easily, but in the end this man who had written so captivatingly about “cheap grace” was compelled to help end the life of this “tyrannical despiser of men.” When millions of people—mostly devout Christians and Jews—were being herded to their deaths, something had to be done. Bonhoeffer was not content to just wait for someone else to do it.
Justice isn’t simply a nice thought or issue to be aware of. Anywhere we find injustice, there are also real human beings who are causing the injustice. Injustice is not ethereal; it’s personal.
For instance, one huge issue of awareness right now is the horrible reality of global sex trafficking. Some estimate there are nearly 12 million individuals who are prisoners in this unthinkable life that they cannot escape. But there is no way to stop the injustice without also stopping those who are perpetrating the evil action.
While some may argue that it would be better to capture slavers and throw them in jail than to kill them, let’s consider that many of these evil people would refuse capture and would come out shooting. What if the only choice was either to kill them, or to let them continue selling innocent women and children into the sex trade? What would you want to have done?
This is a real issue. Social justice is glamorous right now, but I’m afraid some of it is cheap justice. We want to feel good about life being put right, but we don’t think about what it may take to hold accountable those who make the world so wrong. We struggle over the killing of an individual who has not yet met Jesus; but that individual is responsible for thousands of deaths of people who may never have had the chance for salvation—and had he not been stopped, he would have continued the carnage.
There is cosmic justice—we all deserve to come under God’s judgment because of our sin—but there is justice that is meted out on a human scale, also. Though I do not personally rejoice in the death of anyone, and my heart is broken when people die without Jesus, there are times when evil can and must be stopped for the protection of many. Cheap justice has a hard time with that—a true love for real justice must sometimes embrace that painful reality.
“When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers” (Prov. 21:15, NIV).
“Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice” (Prov. 24:17, NIV).