Thursday, May 5, 2011

Osama bin Me

The Arminian in me is always tripping over the Calvinist, even sometimes the Irrationalist, and never more so than on this day in which I am pondering the killing of Osama bin Laden.

One of the best comments I’ve heard, relative to the death of bin Laden, came from a woman whose brother was killed while serving as a guard at a U.S. Embassy that was attacked under the direction of Osama bin Laden. When asked if she was celebrating she quietly explained that she didn’t feel she could celebrate the death of another human being, not even the man responsible for the death of her brother. She recognized that his death was necessary and just but it was, nonetheless, the death of a fellow human being.

And that brings me back to Arminianism. Most Americans, I believe, assume that humans are free agents, capable of choosing good or evil. Our legal system, which assigns blame and punishes “evildoers” for their anti-social behaviors, would make no sense if we did not believe that. And so, it is logical for us to call a man like Osama bin Laden evil, and further to believe that he is evil by choice. I believe that. I am Arminian.

But how do I explain the fact that I was born in the United States to parents of strong Christian faith and exposed to the liberal ideals of American republicanism and bin Laden was born to Muslim parents, educated in their faith, and radicalized by the peculiar experiences of his youth?

The Calvinist in me argues, as was said of Egypt’s Pharaoh, and of Judas, that bin Laden was made (created) to be an instrument of evil – “Jim Rapp have I loved, Osama bin Laden have I hated.” The Irrationalist replies that it was mere “luck of the draw” than made us each into what we are today.

There are implications for each of these beliefs: the Arminian hopes that the sinner will repent, believes that he can; the Calvinist is resigned to the existence of evil and sees it as an opportunity for God to display his righteousness by contrast to the evil in the world; the Irrationalist places no blame for evil and claims no merit for the good he does.

I’m convinced that we will never sort these things out with the tiny brains we’ve been given. It may be that all these perspectives, and others I’ve not mentioned, are true from some perspective; that in some way we cannot now understand, they connect and combine to make a true statement about the condition of man. But now we see as in a misty mirror.

Often, when an irrational creature – a pet dog, a trained elephant, an grizzly bear in the wild – has become a danger to the lives and safety of humans, it is determined that it must be killed. Its death brings relief that the danger posed by the creature’s behavior is past, but often sadness too, at the death of another creature that bore the breath of life. We feel thankful that we were not the dog, the elephant, the bear.

I can’t say why I got to be Jim Rapp and Osama bin Laden got to be who he was. I only know that I stand as much in need of God’s grace as he did. As someone recently said, “I haven’t been as bad as I could have been, but neither have I been as good as I need to be.”

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