After midnight (EST) Sunday a message arrived on my phone from the New York Times. It announced what many have waited ten years to hear: “Osama Bin Laden Dead.”
I lay in my friend’s home in Maryland staring at the ceiling wondering how a Christ-follower should respond. And the first thing that came to mind was a word from scripture: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice” (Prov. 24:17).
Yet why not rejoice at the fall of such an evil person? We remember what Bin Laden did, and not just on 9/11. Thousands of Christians, Jews, and Muslims have died as a result of his schemes. So why not party in the streets? Isn’t his demise an answer to prayer? Aren’t we supposed to do justice?
On Monday I read tweets and editorials from others who shared my reservations. And one comment in response stood out: “Ask a widow of a 9/11 victim how she feels about Osama’s death before you judge me for celebrating.” That comment helped me see where some clarification was in order. And to provide it, I must tell a story…
Most who know me know that about two years ago, a man named Antonio was driving with a suspended license, probably high, and texting one of his girlfriends. In his distracted state, he mowed down my sister’s husband (and my niece and nephews’ dad), who was pedaling with a helmet on in a bike lane. Antonio tore off rather than calling for help or stopping to render aid. And Gordon died on the pavement.
Two days later, Antonio found himself in a prison jumpsuit. And in the months that followed, police made three more arrests as his friends and family tampered with evidence. One girlfriend held a car wash to raise money “for the victims.” She got a great turnout from my sister’s church. But she gave the money to Antonio for bail.
Needless to say, we wanted some justice. When Antonio went off to jail after the trial, we didn’t feel happy-glad; it was more like a bit of satisfaction. Yet we also felt sad at the tragic choices of a human created in the image of God and a man for whom Jesus died. And when tempted to hate him for what he did, we remembered what Jesus said about our debtors and our enemies.
As for justice, we were glad the system mostly worked. Yet we had no illusions about anybody in our family getting “closure.” We didn’t throw a party because Antonio went to jail. His punishment won’t bring Gordon back. While the motive and scale set Antonio and Osama far apart, we have still dealt with unjust death and wrestled with Jesus’ commands. And having done so, I find some similarities in how I’m responding to Bin Laden’s demise.
First, I’m relieved. A mass-murderer who would use a woman in place of a bullet-proof vest is no longer a threat. I am not sad Osama Bin Laden is gone; I don’t wish he were still alive. I also don’t pretend to know the rights and wrongs of military action—I know only that I’m glad we buried his body in a way that showed dignity to Islam while preventing the possibility that his followers would build a shrine and rally around it.
Second, I’m silenced. When I consider that unrepentant murderers have no place in the kingdom of heaven, I shudder. Scripture reminds us of the fate such people will face, and that the end of the wicked brings no pleasure to God. So I have trouble high-fiving. This is the tragic end of a human life created in the image of God and bought by the blood of Christ.
Third, I’m thankful. I’m thankful that God is just. And that He has answered prayers to end Bin Laden’s sicko schemes. I’m also thankful to our troops for risking their lives and accomplishing a risky mission. I celebrate the military victory; I just don’t celebrate someone’s death.
Fourth, I’m concerned. We could debate the rights and wrongs of what we did in taking him out. I lean toward thinking our government did right. But I have no illusions that our actions will bring more peace; retaliation usually escalates violence. As I sit on a plane writing this, I feel a bit nervous, wondering what aircraft will explode next as Bin Laden fans seek an eye for an eye. Images of gloating partiers fuel those flames.
For these reasons, while we condemn no one for celebrating, we can’t fully join in, can we? The borrowed ‘70s line: “O-sama, O-sama, Hey, Hey, Goodbye,” feels too wrong-headed. Perhaps this line’s more fitting: “It’s your party; I can cry if I want to.”