I was assigned the task of leading my team in devotionals this morning, which typically is a time of reading a passage of scripture and then doing a little exposition or guided study on the chosen scripture of the day. Given the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death last night and the varied responses I had seen on FaceBook and Twitter, I thought I would take a stab at this from a different direction.
First, I shared the conversation I had with the kiddo before leaving this morning. I didn’t want discussions to catch him unaware at school, so I talked about the announcement Obama made after bedtime. “I don’t know how I feel about that” came out first. I replied that I was having a hard time, too. I let him know that there were people who felt a little odd rejoicing that a person had been killed. I also said that there were people who were celebrating last night. After all, this one person had been responsible for planning events that killed and injured thousands, and he wouldn’t be around to do that any more. But then we allowed that his memory and thoughts – and maybe even death- could inspire even more violence.
Then I mentioned that my own Twitter feed and Facebook page showed people voicing all of those ideas with varying levels of passion. And I asked these question:
>In light of the fact that we are people of faith who live by the Ten Commandments- including Do not murder – how ought we respond to the killing of this man? What scriptures frame your reaction?
We looked at some of the verses from Proverbs and Psalms that had been tossed around. There was a sense that folks in the room were saddened by the fact he had never acknowledged Christ and our Christian God over his understanding of Allah and the teachings of Islam. There was a sense that the killing was necessary, but the question was raised – would God celebrate the death of this man? Especially before he was reconciled with God?
God is good. God metes out justice. God seeks reconciliation. Osama had at about 10 years after the largest of his murder plans came to fruition. Perhaps God’ s justice came in the form of a team of Navy Seals. God might have looked at the outcome then and said it was good. What we see in at least two places in Ezekiel is that God says “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” (Ez 33:11). Which puts us sort of in the space between the passages in Proverbs that say “when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy” (Prov 11:10) and “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them ” (Prov 24:17-18).
Meanwhile, one of my team mates mentioned for the first time I remember that he was close enough to the pentagon on 9-11 that he felt the impact through the floor and in his chair. They heard the rumble of the explosions and experienced the chaos and fear of not knowing if dear friends were alive or dead. His feelings today were far from inconsequential. I heard stories on the radio from parents and spouses of loved ones who were lost in the Twin Towers and in the Embassy in Nairobi… both attacks attributed to Osama. And those tales of loss and acceptance, even almost forgiveness tore at my heart. I remember being in NYC just weeks after the towers fell, feeling as though I had no right to look across that wreckage. It was sacred space.
So why can’t I party at the death of this man? I don’t know. Perhaps the same reason I can’t weep over his loss. I am just leaving his fate to the God whose justice rolls, whose love endures forever, who sings over us, who gathers our tears, who hardened the heart of Pharoah and brought plagues and death, who does not take delight in the death of the unrighteous, but longs for us to choose the way, the truth and the life.
Or as I tweeted this morning:
Do I mourn the loss of a terrorist? Not really. Do I celebrate? Not exactly. Can I judge those who do either? No.