In our small group meeting last night we talked about the place of questions and doubts in the Christian life. It was timely, because I went to sleep last night with many questions (and some doubt, too) in my mind.
Osama Bin Laden is dead and America rejoices. Therein lies my discomfort. From all that I know, Bin Laden was a truly evil man. I don’t dispute that in any way. I’m also glad that he, at least, won’t be able to do any more harm. But I don’t think that tossing beach balls and singing songs is the appropriate Christian response to the death of another human being – any human being.
Or is it? When I was in high school our church youth group used to sing a song lifted directly from the Hebrew scriptures: I will sing unto the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously. The horse and the rider thrown into the sea. It’s taken from Exodus 15:21, the song Miriam sang after the children of Israel not only crossed the Red Sea on dry land, but saw the Egyptian army swallowed up behind them. It’s a song celebrating the victory of the people of God, but it also celebrates the death of an untold number of Egyptians (and their horses). Singing that peppy little number never bothered me, perhaps because the Exodus was long ago and far away and clearly God’s doing, besides.
Last night, however, scrolling through the jubilant status updates on Facebook, watching the joyous crowds on television, I found myself feeling a bit queasy. We Christians follow a Savior who rejected the way of violence and instructed us to love our enemies. I lean toward pacifism but I don’t know if my pacifism is deeply rooted enough to stay with me under any and all conditions. I understand those who feel that killing Bin Laden was a necessary step for the U.S. government to take. But even if this was necessary – and I’m stressing if – Christians, at least, should respond to the death of an enemy with some sobriety.
What about the singing and dancing in Exodus? What about the death toll that the Israelites racked up, with God on their side, in various other places in scripture? I don’t know. This is where the questions and doubts hit me hardest. How do I reconcile the bloodshed of the Old Testament with the pattern of Jesus, who laid down his life for his enemies. The truth is that I often feel a conflict between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New. This is something “mature” Christians are supposed to be past, I guess. Maybe I’m just a little slow. It sometimes seems to me that we choose the God we want to suit the circumstances. When we want vengeance (or justice, though I’m not sure we can always tell the difference), we recall the smiting, wrathful God. When we want mercy – often for ourselves or our loved ones – we turn to the gracious God revealed in Christ.
This is the only resolution I can bring to this tension: if we are required to kill in service of some higher purpose (a point I’m neither prepared to concede or argue against right now), we Christians should still not rejoice in it. If this is all the ground that we can give to our suffering Savior, let’s at least give him that. Let’s not call for making May 1 a holiday. Let’s not sing, “Hey Hey Hey Goodbye” or “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” or shoot off fireworks or say we hope he “rots in hell”. Let’s soberly recognize our own complicity in shedding blood. How many have died in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, including civilians? Let’s ask ourselves why is it that we rejoice in the death of our enemies, but so few of us mourn the death of civilians? Acknowledge with sorrow that sin twisted Osama Bin Laden into someone he was not created to be. Beware of the potential for sin to distort your own soul, as well. If you believe, fellow Christian, that it was necessary for the U.S. military to kill Bin Laden, then by all means, be thankful. But also pray for the day when wars will cease and the Kingdom of God will come in fullness. And pray for the enemies that remain, as Jesus commanded us. Here is an Orthodox prayer for enemies that may help turn our thoughts in the right direction:
Thou Who didst pray for them that crucified Thee, O Lord, Lover of the souls of men, and Who didst command Thy servants to pray for their enemies, forgive those who hate and maltreat us, and turn our lives from all harm and evil to brotherly love and good works. For this we humbly bring our prayer, that with one accord and one heart we may glorify Thee Who alone lovest man.
I questioned the whole “joyous” atmosphere this morning as well.
Here lies my bigger problem…being a “fan” of Rob Bell, I truly wonder what he thinks today, is bin Laden in Hell, or, has our loving God decided to give bin Laden a shot at Heaven? I, having read Bell’s latest book, think that he missed the point about hell. I am kind-of happy that bin Laden is gone, but I am not rejoicing about a death. Do I believe he is in Hell….oh yeah. I do believe in Hell, and I think and believe that “truly evil” people end up there. But am I going to wave flags and celebrate? Probably not. Death does not seem to be the answer, and it doesnt bring all the people killed on 9/11 back. It may afford loved ones some peace, or some measure of justice, but does it truly solve anything?
So Bell wants to say “Is Ghandi really in Hell, or does my loving God, who sent his son to die for everyone, really commit people to Hell?” Plus, was Ghandi a bad person? Or is he in Hell because he did not call out Lord, Lord, before he died?
But in the grand scheme of God, I believe there is punishment, and Hell, for people like bin Laden.
I just dont have to be thrilled about it.
I especially like your last two sentences.
Perhaps the rejoicing for the Christian is not in Osama’s death, but in a just, yet loving God that is Sovereign and in control of all things. The times and seasons of every man, woman, and child are in His hands. I do not rejoice in a soul lost to hell but I do rejoice in a God that is masterful in the affairs of man. EVERY man. I rejoice in a God that will save in His time and a God that will condemn in His time. I rejoice when He heals and when He wounds for His great purpose (although, personally that is the harder of the two). I rejoice to know that His commandments are still true and purposeful–Thou shalt not murder is the translation of the commandment and reaping and sowing are a fact of life. Yes, Jesus came to sum up all the law and the prophets by saying we should love. What does that love look like, though. In His love and compassion for humankind, did He choose this time to rid the world of the evil that embodied this man? Why not earlier? Who knows except the One that controls the affairs of man. I have babbled long enough. No, I do not rejoice in one man’s death or the deaths that are linked to him. I do rejoice in my God that knows better than me, and in that, the Christian can grapple with questions, but in the end, truly find rest…
You seem to be making a very fine distinction, but this seems like a good time for that kind of precision. I certainly hope that most Christians are able to recognize the difference between rejoicing in God’s sovereignty and rejoicing in death. I’ve heard and seen some things that make me wonder, but as the day has gone on people seem to have cooled down a bit. Thanks for the thoughtful reply!
Justice and Vengeance….humanly…no there is not much difference. Just a few thoughts…and please note…these are just my thoughts/opinions…
1. God is the only Just Judge.
I truly believe this. I have to in order to reconcile the OT God with the NT God. In Genesis, God told Abraham that he would give the land of the Canaanites to his descendants. But he couldn’t do it now…because “the sin of Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Gen 15:16. Abraham had to wait 400 years to inherit his new land. So long that he would not even see it as his. Because the Amorites had not sinned enough. 400 years is a long time. That was 400 years of mercy, before God’s Justice/Wrath.
Another example is Lot. God was willing to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah if just ten righteous were found there. Ten were not found…but He still spared the “righteous”.
2. We, as humans, cannot show/bring justice.
We see our side of the story. Not the other. An old band (see if you can guess…hehehehe because you know I never know this stuff) has a album (do they still call them that…maybe since they are old) called Three Sides to Every Story: Yours, Mine, and the Truth. God deals in the truth. I can only see mine and you can only see yours. He sees that third side. Since God deals in truth…I can trust him to be just. Not sure if the album reflects this. But that is how I take the statement.
3. There is no earthly justice.
I mentioned this on your facebook post. We cannot experience justice here. If someone kills a loved one. Does life in prison really help? Does the death of the murderer really make you feel better as a family member of a victim? Nothing can bring that person back. Nothing can right this wrong. That is how I feel about Osama. Am I sad he is dead? No…but his death does not right the wrong committed against the 3000+ people that died and the many more than that that have mourned those people. I am thankful that he cannot commit any more crimes against us or anyone else. At the same time, I do not rejoice in his death either. Did it really change anything? No. We still have the same enemies we had. The conflict is far deeper than Osama.
4. Earthly “Justice” has its place.
Our legal system, our military and law enforcement has its place. We can’t let people keep victimizing others. Therefore it is a needed thing.
The bottom line for me is longing for human “justice” will leave us empty and longing for something more.
what????? you listened to Extreme??? You get to listen to one pagan band, and you choose Extreme???? 😉
I think you’re right that we need to be very careful – and very humble – about thinking that we can understand/enact justice. We approximate justice, hopefully – and life in a fallen world requires that we attempt it, but that’s the best we can hope for. In fact, I’d suggest that more vehement and belligerent we get about insisting that we’ve “done” justice, the more suspicious we should become of ourselves…..but that’s just me.
hehehehe….I was not completely sheltered….but mostly
“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that”
— Martin Luther King Jr.
The supposed MLK Jr. quotation is a phony. See http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/05/out-of-osamas-death-a-fake-quotation-is-born/238220/
well, shoot. thanks for the heads up!
I saw something about that this morning. They said it was a compilation of fragments of a few different quotes. I’ll read the link above though. Either way, I like it.
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AMEN! Thank you so much for such a thoughtful, balanced, and REASONABLE perspective!
I’d have to agree with you, Sharon, on the whole “dancing in the streets over bin Laden’s death is wrong” opinion. Back on 9/11, the thing that disgusted me most was the footage of little kids dancing for joy in Lebanon. I wonder what they would have felt knowing that there was at least one 2 year old girl, with her mother, on one of those planes. Although I think that it’s a better world without Osama, without Saddam and his evil sons, I don’t think we should ever be dancing in the streets over it. The end of a war and the bringing home of our troops, such as at the end of WWII, yes, but not the death of one bad man. If celebrated, that should be celebrated privately, with respect for the fact that a human, however evil a one, had his life snuffed out.
Well said, Trailer Trash….okay, I feel a little odd calling you that. Is there something else you’d prefer?
Among my oldest friends or my co-workers, I demand to be called “MISTER (insert any derogatory word here), to you”. But, till I get to know you better, you may certainly call me Kevin. (I suppose Kevin J., to differentiate from Kevin B, who commented here).
Well, Kevin B. has always been Beeson to me, and he used to call me Gherkin, back when we went to college together.
I know many a fine Kevin (psst: I’m married to one).