Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth

Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth May 2, 2011

Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thy heart be glad when he stumbleth (Proverbs 24:17).

A friend of mine posted the passage above on facebook shortly after the announcement that Osama bin Laden had been assassinated in Pakistan, and it quickly went viral.  A lot of us were looking for a counter to the celebrations that broke out on campus, since it felt like there was something wrong with taking anyone’s death, even Osama bin Laden’s, as a cause for joy.  I was reminded of a post by Abigail, a 3rd order Carmelite, who began trying to pray for bin Laden as a Lenten discipline.

It is good that he will no longer be able to harm others, but I think it is a mistake to conceive of him only as a malevolent force whose effects on others had to be curtailed.  As terrible as he was, bin Laden was a human being.  He may have freely chosen to subsume himself in evil, but that itself is a horrific loss.  For me, there is something uniquely tragic about the death of a person who has done evil and not repented.  One of my Christian friends posted on facebook:

Dying means that a person can never “turn from their ways and live”. It is the act of redemption I care about – any damn fool can end a life and call it justice, but it takes a really powerful act of love to forgive and redeem a life. I never celebrate the closing of the opportunity for a change of heart.

Most people would prefer to be destroyed rather than be party to grave evil.  It’s much worse to imagine doing evil not under threat of death or any coercion but because I wanted to hurt other people.  It makes me sick to imagine losing my grip on morality, whether as a result of willful acts, brain damage, or being placed in a toxic environment.  Imagine being the mother or sibling of a bin Laden and witnessing a journey into psychopathy.  Whatever the cause, I can imagine nothing more pitiable.

The best thing that Christianity has going for it is the concept of grace — the mercy of God that can heal anyone from the damage they’ve done to themselves and to everyone around them as the result of their moral insufficiencies.  It is the part of the Christian world view that I am most jealous of.  Christians can hope that Bin Laden repented before death or that there is some kind of universalist afterlife that offers another shot at redemption.  I can only mourn for a man who became monstrous and doomed thousands of others to death or moral degradation.

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  • Thank you for this

  • I agree with you completely. I posted something very similar over at my blog too. Bin Laden's death is a sad end to a bad life. But with extreme evil this is what we must expect: no happy ending – just an ending. If only it could nave ended a better way.

  • jen

    agreed (and linked).

  • Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., released the following statement regarding the death of Osama bin Laden:"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 for this purpose.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."

  • Elizabeth K.

    Hi Leah,I already responded to you over on Jen's NCR blog, but I wanted to add that (perhaps as an extension of Jen's "Virtues Gone Wold" post) that, while I don't think we should jump up and down when someone dies, I do think that in this case, justice was served. Mercy is good, but it is not God's only attribute, nor should it be ours. Justice is something we can rejoice about. The fact is, we are in a war with implacable enemies, and we have no idea what his continued existence on this earth might wrought. Of course, it is also reasonable to fear that his death will trigger acts of revenge, which is the danger of violence. I know that some will see this as simply an act of blood revenge, and therefore deplore it. But I think this vastly underestimates the power he wielded, and the threat that we all face.

  • Michael Haycock

    I entirely agree, and I found myself praying on his behalf – because in the LDS faith those who are dead still have a second chance!

  • So beautiful : )