A couple of years ago, the Telegraph ran a story entitled Church's 'Jesus loves Osama' sign criticised. Apparently, some Baptist churches in Sydney, Australia, put up signs which read simply, "Jesus Loves Osama." Smaller print at the bottom contained the Biblical reference supporting that assertion: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44).
The signs were apparently not well received. Even the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, commented on the sign, noting the church "should have chosen a less offensive way of spreading its message."
"I understand the Christian motivation of the Baptist church," [Prime Minister Howard] said.
"But I hope they will understand that a lot of Australians, including many Australian Christians, will think that the prayer priority of the church on this occasion could have been elsewhere."
Peter Jensen, the Anglican archbishop of Sydney, said that the sign - which has been put up outside several churches in the city - was confusing and potentially offensive.
"There is a truth in it," he said. "But, "what we've got to say is, 'Jesus doesn't approve of Osama.' It makes it sounds like, 'Oh, Osama's doing the right thing'."
Have we really come to the point where every statement needs a disclaimer? After all, the New Testament is absolutely clear that God calls on Christians to love everyone -- not just those whom we favor. For example, Luke 6:27-28 states:
But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
Their quotes reveal that the Prime Minister and the Archbishop both implicitly understand that this is part of the message of the Bible. Who doesn't know that? I mean, I doubt that even the so-called New Atheists are so totally ignorant that they don't understand that the central message of the New Testament can be found in John 3:16-17 which teaches:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
There is no discrimination in this act. This gift of love is available to every single person, including those in the world who are most despicable -- Osama bin Laden, Adolph Hitler, Pol Pot, Margaret Sanger. The love and forgiveness of God is open and available to anyone who will freely accept the gift of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.
At the same time, the Bible doesn't teach that Osama bin Laden or any other person who society understands is truly a bad person is somehow deserving of that love. Just the opposite. The Bible teaches that none are deserving of that love. "[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...." (Romans 3:23) That's part of what makes this gift so utterly great and astounding. We don't deserve it. Neither the best among us nor the worst among us deserve the love that God has freely given to us. But God has given us that love anyway. It is given freely to all.
And by giving this love, God is not saying that what Osama bin Laden has done is okay in His eyes. Rather, as with the woman at the well, God is saying, "Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:11)
So, what's so shocking about the "Jesus Loves Osama" sign? It isn't that someone might understand that the church is saying that a human being's killing of thousands of people is somehow morally acceptable as the Archbishop seems to suggest. No one who has the most basic understanding of Christian teaching would arrive at that conclusion. It isn't that the church's priority is wrongly focused as the Prime Minister suggests. The "Jesus Loves Osama" sign is a statement of straightforward Biblical truth.
The problem is this: we don't want God to love Osama bin Laden. We want there to be people who do such awful things that God's love doesn't extend to them. We want some people -- a very select few -- to burn in hell. Our skin crawls to hear that some people like Osama bin Laden who have done great crimes may not pay for those crimes in the great hereafter. "Where's the justice in that?" we cry.
It isn't justice. It's compassion. It's mercy. It's forgiveness.
And it's that same compassion, mercy and forgiveness that makes it possible for each and every one of us to avoid having to suffer for out own personal (albeit, less serious) crimes in the hereafter.
Our dislike of the "Jesus Loves Osama" sign is truly rooted in our own failure to truly embrace the command to love one another, including our enemies, and our own failure to truly understand the work of the cross. Yes, Jesus loves Osama bin Laden, but he obviously does not love what Osama has done. But then, he doesn't always love what we do either. In the words of the old Mel Tillis hymn, "He":
Saint or sinner calls and always finds him there.
Though it makes him sad to see the way we live,
He'll always say, "I forgive."