“O-sama, O-sama, Hey, Hey, Goodbye”?

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.”  

Sandra Glahn, who holds a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and a PhD in The Humanities—Aesthetic Studies from the University of Texas/Dallas, is a professor at DTS. This creator of the Coffee Cup Bible Series (AMG) based on the NET Bible is the author or coauthor of more than twenty books. She's the wife of one husband, mother of one daughter, and owner of two cats. Chocolate and travel make her smile. You can follow her on Twitter @sandraglahn ; on FB /Aspire2 ; and find her at her web site: aspire2.com.


  • Cynde Knutson

    bin Laden

    This was my status on facebook today "

    I've been conflicted about bin Laden's death all day. I do feel a measure of justice was served, but it really feels wrong to celebrate someone's death.
    Many people have posted these verses here and on Twitter: Ezekiel 18:23 and Proverbs 24:17 I think to temper peoples' jubilation.
    But no one has posted Proverbs 11:10, why? Time for soul searching and prayer."

    I haven't decided how I feel about this.

    Blessings and thanks for the post.

  • David K. Johnson

    Death and Justice

    Rom. 13:1-4 teaches that human government was ordained of God to keep law and order. And it is to be "feared" by His enemies who disobey & defy Him and His righteousness. It is a "minister" in the hands of the Lord God, and with that "it does not bear the sword for nothing (in vain), for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon one who practices evil." Then too, recall 2 Chron. 20:27 in context, "for the Lord had made them rejoice over their enemies."    However, we can rejoice in that justice has been done, although we, too, do not join in jumping up and down with celebration over death itself!     

  • Sandra Glahn

    The City Rejoices

    I quote Proverbs 24:17 because it is an imperative. "Don't gloat when your enemy falls." Headlines that say "Burn in Hell" strike me as inappropriate.

    As for Proverbs 11:10, it's an observation, not a command. And we are seeing its wisdom illustrated before our very eyes.   

  • Sue Bohlin

    I was hoping you’d address this today.

    Thank you for providing not only the big picture, and great responses to various scriptures, but also the personal perspective from the inside of a painful, unjust death of a loved one.

    I'm also processing OBL's death from the perspective of one who lost a beloved Marine nephew in an Iraq firefight. Still choosing to trust Jesus to make it all right regardless of choices on earth.

  • sapperdoc

    I agree

    As you saw from my post which your tweet yesterday spurred, I agree with you. I am the King of mixed emotions on this one. As I've said, my Jingoistic American Combat veteran side rejoices, but my Disciple side lets a tear slide as I see one, who may have as much influence against the Kingdom in death, die without knowing salvation through Christ. Mine is not a tear of sadness that he is gone, but that we didn't reach him with God's love.

    Well said Sandra

  • Gwynne Johnson

    What about sowing and reaping?
    Sad to say an end that reflects a lifetime of choice. So for me a warning…as we sow we reap…whether Americans or Bin Laden

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