I did not discover the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed in a raid by US Navy SEALS through CNN.com, MSNBC.com, Foxnews.com, or any other major news source. I read it on Facebook. This was an interesting experience since I didn’t begin thinking about the subject by reading the details, but rather by observing the reactions of others.
It was odd.
First, I must echo these words that I read on Twitter from @Homelessheretic: “Sorry friends. I’m just not holy/spiritual enough to feel anything other than relief that they put 2 in that SOB’s head. Not gonna lie.” There was a brief moment when I felt some odd mixture of joy and relief. It was like when you watch a movie (e.g. Taken) where “redemptive violence” seems to taste so good.
Second, I began reading the Facebook comments and Tweets by those like Chad Presley who Tweeted (from @OptimisticChad): “The death of a vile person, no matter how evil, should cause us to lament their wasted lives, not celebrate as if they bore not God’s image.” Others noted Ezekiel 18:23 where God asks, “Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord GOD, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?” (NASB) YHWH God answers, “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live.” Also Proverbs 24:17, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles”.
I realized that Jesus’ messianic campaign here only showed that death produces more death. Yes, bin Laden will no longer terrorize, but this is not the end of terrorism. In fact, the CIA and other security agencies have warned that supporters of bin Laden may seek revenge. There could be more death due to more retaliation. This is the cycle of violence.
Third, I remembered that the eternal destiny of every human matters. As much as I affirm with Rob Bell that Love Wins, I don’t think this dismisses eternal judgment/wrath. This means every life has value and it is never, ever “good”, in the true sense of the word, when someone dies as odds with the true God.
Fourth, this made it even more obvious that Jesus’ words, while being ignored, remain true: “He who lives by the sword dies by it.” Osama bin Laden lived a life of violence and such was his ending. Oddly enough, it was May 1st, 1945, that the world heard the announcement that Adolf Hitler was dead (read TIME article here). Evil men who use violent means to gain control in this world must often take their own medicine at the end.
Fifth, I watched the reactions of those at Ground Zero in New York City and outside the White House in Washington, D.C. There were celebrations reminiscent of a World Series or Stanley Cup championship. On one side, I judged them for their excessive response to the death of another human. It seemed to me that this reaction was no better than those of some Muslims when they heard our World Trade Center towers had fallen to the ground killing a few thousand. On the other side, I realized that for many this was closure to a decade of bad memories and fearful emotions. I remembered the words of the Psalmist (137.8-9) writing about the Babylonians toward the end of their exile, “O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us—he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” Also, John of Patmos whose writings envision a Jesus who does use redemptive violence, like Joshua, son of Nun, who was used by YHWH God to purge the land of evil people. It seems to be a basic human reaction to breath a sigh of relief, even to let forth a shout of joy, when someone who was an oppressor has been driven into the grave.
Now I jot these notes and I know only that there is a tension. Yes, I feel a sense of relief that an evil man has been killed and that he will no longer torment others. Yet I am challenged by the Apostle Paul who wrote, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12.17-21)
– Joe Carter, “Anthropos, Enemy, and Bin Laden”
– Rodney Thomas, “Enemy Love and Usama bin Laden’s Death”
– Christopher Morgan, “Grieving, Rejoicing that Osama bin Laden is Dead”
– Brandon Johnson, “Grieving for Bin Laden: Why the Death of a Terrorist is a Cosmic Tragedy”
– Sarah Bessy, “In Which Osama bin Laden is Dead”
– Nathan Black, “Osama bin Laden Dead; Christians Debate Response”
– Doug Chaplin, “Some Initial Musings on the Death of Bin Laden”
– Michael J. Gorman, “Some Thoughts on the Death of Osama bin Laden”
For more links go here.