Justice is Served?

Don’t get me wrong, I get it. I get the horror, the shock, and the grief. I get the humiliation, the fear, the anger and I certainly get the desire to eradicate evil – or at least the person in whom evil takes root. I understand the elation and the pride that follows a job – a hard job, a dangerous job – well done. But I’m hoping for a more nuanced view from our country’s leaders.

Last night President Obama told us that Osama bin Laden had been killed by American forces in a targeted strike. He said, “The American people did not choose this fight. It came to our shores, and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens.” Really? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we started it, but how could we possibly know where it started?

Following the President’s announcement one politician after another after another, talked about what a “great day it is for America,” about it being “the most significant victory in our war against terror,” about how people now “know not to question America’s resolve.” It was a “momentous achievement.” “Justice is served.” “The world is now safer” because of what we have done. Really? It’s that simple?

The whole thing has me longing for some more nuanced view from our politicians, our statesmen and women, just a hint from someone that they are wrestling with the moral ambiguity in the midst of this. Most of these folk claim to the Christian, right? It just doesn’t compute because Christians are accountable to a tradition that believes killing, any killing, tears at the fabric of human society. It ruptures the unity that forms the very ground on which we live. That’s why in Luke’s story Jesus said, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what their doing.” I grant the possibility that one could argue from our tradition, that there are times when killing is justified, but even then, we would still understand it to be a rupture ultimately needing to be healed.

So I understand the desire to eradicate evil, but I’m nevertheless led to wonder if all we have done is to add to the carnage of the centuries, if we’ve simply frayed the fabric of creation yet further. We’re getting so good at it. It seems to me we ought to consider the possibility that we need to get better at something else.

Anyway I’m pretty concerned that there is no evidence whatsoever that our politicians grasp the ambiguity that lies at the heart of the matter. But the truth is, I don’t believe they don’t get it. I think Barack Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Mitt Romney, are pretty sophisticated folk. I’m confident they’ve spent time reflecting on these issues. So why is it that none of that was revealed in the speeches and statements that followed the death of Osama bin Laden? I guess I have to assume they think none of us can appreciate it. And that really concerns me.

About Sam Alexander

Sam Alexander is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael and also serves as Adjunct Instructor in Homiletics at San Francisco Theological Seminary.


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