Revenge & Redemption

Revenge & Redemption May 3, 2011

I spoke with my friend Lillian tonight. Lillian’s only daughter, Marjorie, was killed in the 9-11 attack on the Pentagon. I’ve invited Lillian, a journalist herself, to write something to share with us here. Anything she wants. If she does, I’ll be sharing that in the days ahead.

I didn’t know Lillian before the 9-11 attack. She wrote to me after reading something I wrote about my father’s death and our friendship grew from that.

You understand me, Lillian says.  By that, she simply means that I understand something of loss and grief.

That’s quite a contrast to the note I received from another journalist, this one in NYC, chiding me for remarks I made about how uncomfortable I was about the revelry over Bin Laden’s death. This woman is someone I respect, so her criticisms aren’t readily dismissed. What she said, in essence, was that given how I wasn’t in NYC, how I hadn’t personally lost anyone, I was out-of-line for scolding people over their celebrating.

Perhaps she’s right. I’ve been out-of-line a time or two in my life. Okay. Maybe more.

But let me address a couple of things here:

– I think there’s  huge difference between being relieved and actually celebrating the death of an enemy. That said, for anyone in NYC to suggest that the rest of the nation doesn’t get it because we weren’t there on that day, that we can’t possibly understand, is simply wrong-headed. It marginalizes the rest of the nation. Including people like Lillian, who happens to live in Georgia.  NYC does not own the corner market on grief when it comes to 9-11. Remember that field in Pennsylvania? That military complex in Virginia? Even those who didn’t inhale ash appreciate the loss, the devastation, the anger. We get it. You don’t have to agree with my perspective but don’t dismiss me as ignorant, or callous. I am neither.

– Lillian, unaware of any of this, said to me tonight that she was uncomfortable with the celebrating. She said it reminded her of when school children in Muslim countries cheered the collapse of the Twin Towers.

-At Katdish’s blog, she delineates the difference as she sees it between us celebrating the death of Bin Laden and others celebrating 9-11. I think we are walking a fine line here.

– Frankly, when I saw the photos of people celebrating outside the White House it grieved me deeply. If you study the photos, I think what you’ll see are mostly a young Georgetown  population . Entitled. Privileged. Educated. Myopic. Exactly the same kind of people who would have stormed the gates of hell had President Bush or President Obama enacted a draft as a means to help disperse the burden of finding Bin Laden. Perhaps I’m wrong about that, but I didn’t see many in the crowd from DC’s more battered communities. I suspect those cheering the loudest would have been the same whining the most had their butts been shipped off to Iraq or Afghanistan due to a draft.  So spare me the victory chant.

– I have blogged recently about a struggle I’d been having spiritually over a story I’ve been writing. It concerns the murder of a 3-year old girl. I have come out and said that I didn’t think there was redemption for such a man. That I believed he’d shot his wad at redemption when he decided to murder that child. Several readers challenged me on that, offering me scriptures and urging me to consider that God can redeem anyone — that our duty, my duty, as a Believer is to forgive the man.

– Those same readers have gone on the record taking a different stance against Bin Laden. So I’m left to assume that it’s not murder that’s the problem, but the number of people a person murders. Bin Laden crossed the line of redemption but the man who beat to death a 3-year old didn’t? I’m confused.  Help me understand how it is we choose who gets forgiveness and who doesn’t? And who we are obligated to forgive and who to cheer to hell?

– Lillian and I have talked numerous times about this issue. I would never tell her she had to forgive Bin Laden, any more than I would tell the little girl’s father he needed to forgive the man who killed his daughter.  I’m ready to admit that I don’t know the answer but shouldn’t we be consistent in our world view? If there is forgiveness and redemption for the murderer in prison, isn’t it there for the mass murderer as well? Or is it like fishing? You catch your limit, you’re done?

– I’ll confess this whole thing has left me cranky. I warned Tim of that before he got home tonight. I have an unsettled feeling about all of this. A heaviness. I had a good crying jag with God today. I’ll probably have several more before week’s end.

– I am worried about us. About who we are becoming. I keep remembering a conversation I had with a friend in 2003, days before we invaded Iraq. She and I were standing in a manioc field overlooking Vietnam’s Ia Drang Valley – a bloody battle there in 1965 took her father’s life and ultimately led to my father’s death. She was weeping the way I did today: Why? she wailed. Why? What was all this for?

– A few weeks later a boy I hadn’t met yet would lose his father in Iraq. The result of a suicide bomber. The boy was 5, he had a brother 3 and his mom was pregnant with yet another boy. He’s in junior high now. I asked him once if he told the other kids that his father died in Iraq. No, he said. Why not? I asked. Because, he said, it hurts to talk about my father. Oh. I get that, I said. And another thing, he said. What’s that? Kids today think it’s cool when your father dies in war but I know it’s not — it hurts.

I can’ t help but think that when we raise up generations of kids who think it’s cool to die in war, that it’s cool to kick ass, that it’s cool to waste the bad guy, then how is it again that we differ from our enemies?

Celebrate if you must but mark my word, people, Bin Laden’s death is not the end of this story.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Yikes, did we loose a post? I swear I made I comment here last night about the generational nature of the “celebration” last night (and how I am of that generation), I came back to copy it to write it up in more depth for my blog, and I can’t find it.

    Did we loose it? Or in the frenzy of social media outpouring last night did I think I posted it here and actually post it somewhere else?

  • I wonder if this is a sick reminder of the racism that lies oh so close to the surface of our culture. I’ve been confronted with worsening comments in regard to the somali refugees in our town. The question i have for each person is,”aren’t they the same as us?”. If we could truly see others the same as us in our humanity then maybe we could see the similarity in our sin,and finally forgive…maybe

  • Rose Blackwell

    Karen this is a great piece of writing. We are never going to learn anything I’m just shaking my head reading the paper and listening to the news which is ABC. I just wanted to slap Diane upside the head she annoyed the H… (sorry) out of me last night.All this grandstanding going on right now.Like you said, Bin Laden Death is not the end of the story….

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thanks Rose. Grandstanding is a great way to sum it up.

  • WandaV

    Wow, Karen.

    I just tried to post “Wow, Karen” and it was rejected as too short. [My husband might wish my comments to him were too short :-).] But, “WOW” was all that came out of me as I read your article here.

    I appreciate your ponderings and am posting this on my FB page.
    Yours, Wanda

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thanks, Wanda. Glad it spoke to you.

  • Karen, I’m with you in feeling disturbed and saddened, for many reasons, about the over-celebrating.

    I don’t know if it’s proper right now, since you’re cranky ( 😉 ) to point out that my disagreement with your paragraph which begins “Those same readers have gone on the record taking a different stance against Bin Laden.”

    I know you’re talking about several people, and I cannot speak for all of them, but for myself, I have been consistent in being thankful that I know that God can and will forgive any repentant and contrite heart, whether it’s a thief on a cross, Jeffrey Dahmer, Hitler, Bin Laden, Charlie Sheen, a child molester, or a blaspheming Pharisee named Saul, soon to be changed to Paul.

    I love that Jesus’ death on the cross covered all the sins of the world, every committed, if only the sinner will repent and ask. I love that. Sadly, Bin Laden had his chance, and blew it, and now, despite what some have read recently, he won’t get any more chances. His being taken out as leader of Al Quaeda is a positive development, but his eternal fate is a sad one. Just like anyone else who chooses to take their rebellion against God all the way into their last breath.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Yeah, James, I didn’t mean all readers. I was speaking specific. You know I’m struggling with this issue so I can’t really debate it. I accept your comments and appreciate the thoughts.

      • Yes, and I am not attempting to debate it here. Just sharing that I love that the Cross covers all sin. Just sharing my personal perspective. I am greatly appreciative that you aren’t pretending to be OK with the idea just to put on a show as a “good Christian”. You struggle with the idea that the worst of the worst can be redeemed, and I love that you are sharing that honestly.

  • Struggling with you, sista. Struggling with ya.

    Two thoughts foremost in my mind of late: 1) Anyone who thinks there isn’t a hell reserved for the evil powers and principalities of the universe hasn’t been through it here on earth. Lucky them. That’s why I can’t dance in the streets, though, because I’m more grieved about the whole of it. I’m glad the dude’s dead. But it doesn’t change the reality of the presence of evil in the world. I can’t dance about him any more than I can go up to the graveyard where two of the people who abused my tiny body are buried and dance on their heads. I’m just grieved evil can possess a heart enough to do what the one of them did to me while the other stood by (quite literally) and watched.

    I can’t remember what #2 is/was.

    But #1’s enough for now.

    I just pray Jesus comes back soon. And in the meantime, I pray those of us who follow Him can lead the charge of the inbreaking of the Kingdom in full force. He is the only answer.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Years ago when I was a reporter, I covered a trial the week before Mother’s Day. A trial for a sex offender. A man the mother welcomed into her home. When he raped her 8-year old son and her 12-year old daughter, she stood by and took photos. It was the clerk at the photo developing store that reported the abuse. The prosecuting attorney pulled me into his office and showed me those photos. I was so sick, I went into a fasting prayer asking God to remove those images from my mind and for the most part he has. But that changed the way I look at Mother’s Day and mothers in general. There are some awful mothers out there.
      I am sorry for what this couple did to you. It was wrong. It hurts the heart of God. I know you know that. I just wanted to give you a hug and tell you how grieved I am about all sorts of evil, including the sort inflicted upon you and these children I’ve never forgotten.
      I, too, have been praying for Jesus to return quickly.

    • Amy, your testimony is worth a thousand times those of us who haven’t gone through something like that. Thank you for sharing that here.

  • This is an awesome piece of writing, Karen. You mirrored my thoughts very much. I expressed to my son the other morning my own discomfort about people celebrating the death of Bin Laden.

    “I think it’s important that we value life,” I shared with him.

    “But he didn’t value life,” my son returned.

    No, he didn’t. I couldn’t even argue with the reasoning and didn’t, but I still believe that celebrating the death of a human being, no matter how evil, is wrong.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I suppose the retort back to your son would be Exactly and when we start devaluing life the way he did, don’t we risk becoming just like him?

  • Peg Willis

    My first response when I heard the news Sunday night was numbness. I’m still numb. It’s huge – this life/death, forgiveness/condemnation thing. I can’t get my mind or my emotions around any of it. Thankfully, I don’t have to. It’s God’s call. I do know life hurts. I do know my God is trustworthy. I do know I’ll face tomorrow with the same God who was with me last Saturday. My most commonly spoken prayer: Oh God, You know!

  • There will be no satisfaction in this life for the evil done to a loved one of mine. There will be no justice from the criminal justice system, Navy SEALS, or any other justice system in this life. This life. In this life, there is no satisfactory answer, but there is a reply: the kingdom of God.

    As I look at Jesus’ encounters with evil, I see him casting out demons. In the tragic case of that violent and self-destructive homeless exile in Gerasa, Jesus saw the difference between the mental illness, the utterly demonic that inhabited this body, and the human being himself. Working regularly with mentally ill people in the setting of Christian worship, I am constantly confronted with the blurred boundary between religion with a salvific message of comfort and hope and religion that walks wildly in a world of the most violent imagery–using not the language of witchcraft and sorcery but the very language and imagery of the Bible itself. I constantly have to remind myself to be present to the person in a grace-filled way and that the person is not their illness, the illness not the person.

    If we focus narrowly on passages such as Romans 2:6-11 and its Old Testament antecedents such as Psalm 62:11-12 and Proverbs 24:12, we see a practically airtight case for works righteousness. Our hearts cry out for God to repay each according to their works, according to what each has done, to let nothing escape from that indictment.

    In times of unspeakable anguish, that offers us some momentary comfort. Until we apply it to ourselves. Do WE want to be repaid according to our works? Do we want to cut ourselves off completely from grace and make it on our own instead?

    If we step back from the narrow focus on a few bits of mortar between the bricks that Rom. 2:6-11 is and instead begin to glimpse the mansion that Paul has built for us, we see that his overall argument is precisely the opposite of that of those six verses. Indeed, Paul brings us the doctrine, the good news, of justification by grace through faith.

    Without going into Greek grammar, the brilliant breakthrough Paul has brought us, and that the church itself seemed to lose for centuries until reformers recovered it, is this: God is righteous. God is not righteous on the basis of being an ultra-perfectionist living in a hermetically sealed bubble separate from sin and evil. God is righteous because God justifies. God is righteous because God SETS THINGS RIGHT. Our separate English words “justification” and “righteousness” are the same word/root in Greek. It’s all of a piece.

    Therefore, the victory has been won by Christ; and it is ours by grace through faith. Done while we were ungodly. Done while we were yet sinners (which I still am). Still being done for me in the work of redemption, the ongoing work of the kingdom of God.

    God’s righteousness sets things right. God’s justice sets things right–whatever that is. I know there are things my family and my loved one have experienced that will not see justice in this lifetime. But I also trust that this is not a fast one pulled on God that God was totally unequipped to handle. God has, is and will bring justice–according to God’s standards, not mine. If I could fully adjudicate that justice myself, I would not only be like God, I would BE God. I’m not. God is. Christ is. I trust them for this. So I can let go of it.

    Meanwhile, there is endless work for us to do all around us in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is unbounded, undeterred by crime, violence, warfare, nuclear conflagration, or mental illness. One of Martin Luther’s simple standards for evaluating the importance of any tenet of the Christian faith was this question “Does it make the most of Christ?” It’s useful for me to keep in mind. Does my work, my witness, my life make the most of Christ?

    If I can sing and praise in the midst of heartbreak, things are going in the right direction. I can do that because I trust. That’s a great relief. And as the seminary student said to his prof years ago, “If God is not God enough for everything, then God is not God enough for anything.” I trust the God who is. The one who said, “My name is ‘I Am'”.

  • Sue

    Karen, I don’t know if that chiding journalist is a Christian or not but I’d like to think we believers view the killing of bin Laden through much different lens. I haven’t yet asked a friend of mine how she sees this death since she lost her husband in the 2nd tower and we all live in Md. and her opinion would be important. But no one should gloat over OBL’s death.
    We Christians know we are to forgive, but let’s face it, we still rank sins and those that are particularly heinous or close to us are the ones we’d really rather not have to forgive.
    And I SO agree that OBL’s death is not the end of the story. Love your honest writing!

  • Janice

    Karen, I feel the same way. You have expressed what I have been feeling – so unsettled by the “celebration” of death. I don’t have the answers but I’m so glad that I am not the only one who is disturbed by the idea of cheering for the death of this man or anyone.
    Not for one second do I forget who Osama bin Laden was or what he was responsible for, there is no doubt in my mind that he was evil – I am confused I guess. Like I said, I don’t have the answers but I’m glad that I am not the only one asking the question.

  • I have also noticed it seems predominantly the younger generation that’s so joyous. I can’t imagine why, but I think your comments about the draft have a lot to do with it.

  • Greg England

    Thank you for your thoughts, here, Karen. My heart resonates with much of what you said. As with another commenter above, I am not debating you on the forgiveness issue … I simply don’t know. I do know that God loves the terrorist as much as he loves me or anyone else, and I can’t wrap my head around that depth of love. That said, somehow I don’t think bin laden was a person with much contrition in his heart for his hatred nor his crimes.

    I am grateful for whatever psychological boost this gives to people whose lives were personally touched by the events of 9-11, and I congratulate our special forces (my older brother was in special forces / Vietnam for two tours, behind enemy lines both tours) but I fear ultimately bin laden’s death will have little effect on stopping terrorism against us. In fact, I think it will fuel acts of terrorism.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Greg: I share your sentiments about where all this will lead us. I think that’s what grieves me so.

  • Debbie

    I sometimes wonder who I would be if I was born into a different culture with different religious views. I take it for granted that everyone has heard of Jesus, heck even half the people I went to church with had heard about Jesus and still remained cold hearted loveless beasts. I have given up on ever understanding God and His ways…many people would have died before the apostles and those early believers reached ‘all the world’ with the message of The Gospel. If I contemplate that too much I can only conclude that those who hadn’t heard but who also didn’t do much evil were taken into heaven anyway and then that makes it a works based system…so I dunno about a lot of things…I can only trust that it is God who forgave us 2000 years ago and only God can help us pass on the gift of forgiven. Try as I do I find it very hard to forgive and only seem to do so when I come to understand that it isn’t me who forgives…I am not God…it is He who lives within me. It is where I am at in this crazy journey of life anyway.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Debbie: I am not there yet but I hope I get to this place, where I understand that it’s not me who forgives but He who lives with me.

  • I just wanted to give you a long, long hug tonight…

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thanks, Ann.I would have loved that. Appreciate you.