To me, scenes like the one below, outside the White House after the announcement of Bin Laden’s death, are troubling.
God knows, I can understand the impulse behind them. I still have vivid memories of being in New York on 9/11, and the many weeks of walking past bus stops and lamp posts and seeing the tattered photocopied pictures of friends and loved ones and neighbors, many accompanied by just one word, “Missing.” I live in a city that still bears the scars. There is a sense of profound, long-delayed justice to last night’s news.
But is the taking of another human life, no matter how despicable that life was, something to rejoice over? The vanquishing of Bin Laden calls for a more sober response. A quiet, grateful exhale, and two simple words: “Mission accomplished.” Then, shake the dust from our boots, and move on. The story isn’t over. There is still more work to do.
The reality remains that the death of Osama Bin Laden doesn’t end what he began. And displays like the one above only serve to make us seem as vengeful as the Afghans who giddily danced in the streets after the Twin Towers collapsed.
We’re better than that.
Blogger Dan Horan notes:
This is not a moment for “triumph” or “celebration,” contrary to what so many television pundits and so-called patriots will suggest. It is indeed an important moment in our national and global history, something to take seriously and reflect upon, but the celebration of the death of a human being is not what Christians are called to do as Jesus makes quite clear.
And he quotes from Proverbs:
Do not rejoice when your enemies fall,
and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble,
or else the LORD will see it and be displeased,
and turn away his anger from them.
Do not fret because of evildoers.
Do not envy the wicked;
for the evil have no future;
the lamp of the wicked will go out.
Or, as someone once put it: “Love your enemies. And pray for your persecutors. Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
What part of that don’t we understand?
For more on this, James Martin has some excellent observations:
Christians are still in the midst of the Easter Season, when Jesus, the innocent one, not only triumphantly rose from the dead but, in his earthly life, forgave his executioners from his cross in the midst of excruciating pain. Forgiveness is the hardest of all Christian acts. (Love, by comparison, is easier.) It is also, according to Jesus, something that should have no limit. No boundaries. Peter once asked him how often he was supposed to forgive. Seven times? “Not seven times,” answered Jesus, “but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” In other words, times without number. “Forgive your brother or sister from your heart,” he said.
So the question is whether the Christian can forgive a murderer, a mass murderer, even–as in the case of Osama bin Laden–a coordinator of mass murder. I’m not sure I would be able to do this, particularly if I had lost a loved one. But as with other “life” issues, we cannot overlook what Jesus asks of us, hard as it is to comprehend.
For this is a “life” issue as surely as any other. The Christian is not simply in favor of life for the unborn, for the innocent, for those we care for, for our families and friends, for our fellow citizens, for our fellow church members or even for those whom we consider good, but for all. All life is sacred because God created all life. This is what lies behind Jesus’s most difficult command: “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
UPDATE: The Vatican statement on bin Laden’s death reads, in part:
“Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions to this end…In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.”