So what is justice? Is it an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? Is it a balancing of the scales? Is it the restoration of the status quo prior to the injustice? Or could it be the creation of a state of peaceful coexistence and harmony?
In theory, American justice is the rule of law where even the most heinous criminal is given rights because preserving justice is ultimately much more important than the risk that a guilty person might escape consequences. In practice, American justice sometimes looks like frontier justice where an expression like “he needed killin'” doesn't sound like the absurdity that it is. In the pantheon of villains, Osama Bin Laden is perhaps second only to Adolph Hitler. So when President Obama said about his death, “And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda's terror: Justice has been done,” I doubt that many Americans questioned it. If ever there was someone who deserved an extra-judicial execution, surely it was this evil man, right? Tragically, when the President sets himself up as judge, jury and executioner, justice is harmed, not served.
Of course, the argument can be made that this was a war and he was an enemy combatant killed on the battlefield. I'm not expert in military law, so that may be justified. Even if this action is a legitimate act of warfare, I must question its strategic value. Surely the vacuum left by the leader's absence has already been filled. In fact, hasn't the second in command been the leader for some time now anyway? How can this be more than a symbolic action in the war on terrorism at this point? One would think that from the level of euphoria seen on American streets that this war was over, but not one word has been uttered about the end of hostilities and the return of the troops. Sadly, this leads to the conclusion that hunting down and killing Bin Laden had only political motivation. Simply put, this was revenge.
And so we return to the question of whether or not justice was served. Is revenge justice? The death of the one responsible for the deaths of so many does little to balance the scale. Perhaps if I had a loved one who had died because of him I might feel differently, but I doubt it. I find no satisfaction in revenge. I can't see how returning violence for violence and hate for hate brings any comfort or peace to the avenger. Most of the people who lost family on 9/11 whom I've heard interviewed so far have commented on how it feels wrong to celebrate the death of someone, even someone as awful as Bin Laden. There is a reason that it feels wrong...it is.
As a Christian, I don't have an option for violence. If I am to be a true follower of Jesus, I need to love my enemy and pray for those who persecute me. I need to turn the other cheek. I need to return good for evil. I need to leave judgment and any vengeance that there may be to God. If that makes me a fool, so be it. I know it is not a practical way to live in the world, but that is not what is ever promised. History and personal observation confirms that violence is not defeated by violence. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
I believe that God's justice is the creation of what our Jewish brothers and sisters call shalom. Shalom is more than peace in the sense of the absence of conflict. It is harmony and balance among all beings. It is a description of what we want heaven to be. God wants to break into our lives with shalom, bringing heaven into the hell that we too often choose to inhabit. People like Bin Laden are so broken that they never open up to this grace and go about creating more hell on earth. Still, the love of God is so vast, so powerful and so persistent that regardless of the hells we find ourselves in (even of our own choosing) there is always hope.
Today I hope for more hearts to open to that love, that we may find shalom.