Like almost anyone who was alive on September 11, 2001, I remember that morning clearly. I was in college in Chicago at the time and was getting ready to head out the door to go to my first class for the day when my roommate called me back. He had just turned on the TV and already the feed showed smoke billowing out of one of the Twin Towers. I watched as speculation swarmed about what had caused that first plane to hit the tower. Then the second plane hit and all the speculation was over. We knew that this was a deliberate attack. All that remained were the questions, “Who would do such a thing?” and “Why?” Shortly after the attacks a ten year manhunt began for Osama Bin Laden.
That hunt ended on May 2nd, 2011 when SEAL Team Six stormed the compound in Pakistan where Osama had been holed up. The last words he spoke were, “Don’t turn on the light.” These were the last words spoken by Osama Bin Laden, to his youngest wife Amal on that night his compound was raided by Navy SEALs and he was shot and killed. Peter Bergen, in his book Manhunt, detailed Bin Laden’s end from the beginning. As Peter Bergen tells it, Osama, “just waited in the dark in silence for about 15 minutes, seemingly mentally paralyzed as the Americans stormed his last refuge.” At one point he opened a metal gate that blocked access to his room and poked his head out to see what the commotion was downstairs. But then, he “made the fatal error of not locking the gate behind him” when he retreated, allowing the SEALs to run past it and into his bedroom and finish him.
Those words, “Don’t turn on the light,” are a sad testament to the place that our sin eventually brings us all apart from an act of God. Osama spoke those words knowing that his judgment was drawing near. He spoke those words in fear, knowing that a reckoning was relentlessly approaching. He spoke those words knowing that he had nowhere left to run and no hope of anything to hide him except the darkness that he had so faithfully served. Jesus once said, “light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)
Left to our own devices, our last words at that moment of judgment will be the same as Osama’s: “Don’t turn on the light.” A plea to remain hidden in darkness. Yet Jesus has stepped into our darkness. John (the disciple of Jesus) said of Him, “In Jesus was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5) Jesus said of Himself, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because He has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:16-18)
The scandal of the Gospel is that Jesus came to bring light to Osama Bin Laden’s darkness. Jesus came, not just for you, not just for the mildly bad. He came for the worst of the worst. He came to lead everyone out of the darkness of their own making and into His light. And thank God that He did. The fact that Jesus came for us and didn’t wait until we made the first move is an incredible gift. It’s grace. It means that there is hope, even for the worst of the worst. It is for this reason Jesus can command his followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 4:44-45) That is a hopeful prayer. It’s a prayer that acknowledges that while there is still breath in our bodies there is still a chance, no matter how slim we might believe it to be, that God might work a change in that person we consider to be beyond redemption.
And so, as children of the light we live in hope, never forgetting the darkness in which we once walked, and praising God that at the end our last words will not be, “Don’t turn on the lights.”
“This is the message we have heard from Him [Jesus] and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
– John, from his first letter chapter 1:5-9