I mentioned yesterday that I offered the blog up to two people for guest posts. One of them took me up on the offer, and I am unbelievably excited that he did. Lieutenant Colonel Karl “KJ” Johnson is a helicopter pilot in the Marine Corp and a veteran of the War on Terror. KJ has been just about everywhere the War has taken our troops, and has seen everything there is to see. If anyone can lend some perspective to the death of the World’s Most Notorious Terrorist, KJ certainly can.
I first met KJ through my work with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. I was working a public forum at Arizona State University and KJ, who lived in California at the time, drove all they way to Scottsdale just to help work at our book table. I ended up sitting next to him at the payment table, and we struck up a conversation that lasted pretty much all night. His stories fascinating, but his insight into life – insight brought about in part by his service to our country, but mostly by his God-given gift of intelligence – made you stop and really think about issues you’d long considered resolved in your mind. He does exactly that with today’s post. Please, read it, think about it, and then pass it on to someone else.
The Death of OBL
As a Marine officer of nearly 19 years of continuous active duty service and, more importantly, a disciple of Jesus Christ I am very interested in the recent turn of events involving Osama bin Laden (OBL). In fact, I have been keenly interested since that fateful day in Sept. 2011. Believe it or not, one of my first thoughts that day was “I wonder if anyone is praying for OBL.” I mean, aren’t we supposed to love our enemies? As an American citizen I have no more dangerous an enemy than OBL and those who are associated with him. Aren’t we supposed to forego the weapons of the world, as counterintuitive as that may seem? At that time I was getting ready to deploy, so the likelihood of going into combat was very real (remember, this was before we went into either Afghanistan or Iraq) and most of my peers were using the events of 9/11 to motivate them for (or cope with) our six-month deployment. In fact, many of my peers were eager to engage the enemy in order to exact some revenge/justice…all in the name of patriotism. So why was I thinking about praying for OBL?
Now, I’m not judging my fellow Marines. A large part of me agrees with them and I certainly subscribe to the Just War Theory; I would never have accepted a commission as an officer in the Corps otherwise. And this would certainly be a Just War. But somehow God would not let me feel the hatred for OBL that many of my peers felt. Oh, I was very affected by the events of 9/11. In fact, I was very surprised by just how emotional I got seeing my beloved homeland attacked and violated. I had friends in the Pentagon that day. And, since I’m a pilot, I played the events of the courageous passengers in my mind over and over and wondered many times what I would have done had I been on one of those flights, or if I had been one of the pilots. I was enraged to see what had happened. But I did not harbor a hatred for OBL or any single person. Perhaps it’s because my worldview accounted for the existence of evil and I recognized the dangers posed by the radical Islamic agenda. I don’t know for sure, but I do know that God called me to pray that day. And I prayed that God would somehow win over OBL, that somehow God would reach into his black heart and redeem it just like he had redeemed mine.
OBL deserves death and hell. But so do the rest of us. If God is the standard, we are all in trouble. We all need grace. We tend to grade one another, to compare ourselves to others. This works for us and against us. ”Oh, I may not be perfect but at least I’m not as bad as so-and-so.” Or how about, “man, look at so-and-so, I’ll never be as good a Christian as he/she is.” No, there’s only one comparison to be made, the comparison to Christ. And we all fail that test. OBL was decieved. VERY deceived. But are we any better off? Do we play games with ourselves and convince ourselves that we’re good enough or better than others? Remember the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14? He prayed “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” Or even this terrorist. Really? We are just like the Israelites. We never learn, and we keep repeating the same sins.
Think maybe OBL was beyond God’s reach? What about Paul? Oh, but he was an apostle, a one-of-a-kind instance. Really? Check out the story of Thomas Tarrants, a terrorist himself, former president of the C.S. Lewis Institute (now their Director of Ministry) and good friend (I did not meet him until years after all of this). You want a good story? Google the CS Lewis Institute, write them a letter and they will send you a FREE copy of Tom’s testimony. You will not regret it, and it will change how you think of others. You will never again believe that anyone is unreachable.
So, how do I feel about the death of OBL. Well, it certainly provides a certain amount of closure. I was a little bit emotional because it represents bringing a tyrant to justice and the closing of a chapter of frustration; OBL had eluded us for so long and I did not want him to get away with his crimes (in this world). And on the strategic level of warfare this represents a victory. It will send a message to terrorists all over the globe and serve as a beacon of hope to those who live in fear of men like OBL. Another part of me recognizes that on the tactical and operational levels of warfare this does not change a lot. The Taliban and al-Qa’ida are still a threat and the brave American men and women in Afghanistan still face the same dangers they did on April 30. And they are likely to see those threats increase as the Taliban steps up their efforts to avenge OBL’s demise. But those same men and women will also find encouragement and a lift in morale to see this victory. Additionally, those of us in uniform are not naïve enough to think that this going to topple the opposition. This is not like taking out Hitler during WWII. No, it’s a whole new kind of warfare. One in which there are no front lines, no rear area, no obvious enemy. I guess in the end, I’m a bit ambivalent. I do not rejoice in the death of anyone, even OBL. Instead, I am haunted by C.S. Lewis’ words: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.” I know which one I want to be.