It began with a handful of Facebook status updates and turned into a furor of information-gathering. I sat frustrated at my computer screen as the little beach-ball thing—notorious to Macs—spun and spun at the CNN website. Then I had to wait for the President’s speech. Then it was all confirmed:
Osama Bin Laden. Was dead.
Almost ten years ago, that name became notorious. Prior to that, we didn’t know it. Since then, thousands of lives have been lost trying to find this one man, or lost in the pretext of bringing to justice the man that lead others to fly planes into two parallel towers towering over lower Manhattan.
Of course, the next step was the celebrations. People writing “USA USA USA!” on their walls. Saying justice had been done, echoing the president I voted for.
But is a violent death “justice?”
After hearing the news, I turned to a verse of scripture that I had read years ago—one that had also come to mind as people in my college were cheering a cell-phone video of Saddam Hussein’s being hung. Proverbs 24:17:
"Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble." The passage goes on to say how the Lord will turn his anger away from those enemies and, presumably, bring it upon those who celebrate their fall.
I read this verse and I am reminded also of Jesus’ teachings about loving and praying for enemies. I am reminded that Jesus loves people like Osama bin Laden, went to the cross for them. Just like He did for me. My mom. My best friends. Howard at the comic book shop. All of the clergy I know.
Would I cheer if they died a violent death?
I’ve seen people get upset at how people in other countries have paraded the bodies of their enemies in the streets and celebrate their violent death. But today, are we not so different?
This is where things are complicated for Christians. Because, of course, Bin Laden isn’t our mothers and friends. We know that his death might signal the beginning of less violence. We think in terms of Just-War theory and the saving of innocents. And these are true things. His death is a good thing.
But it’s a good thing that we don’t need to celebrate.
According to this morning’s New York Times, a man named Harry Waizer spoke about the news of Bin Laden’s death. Mr. Waizer survived the towers that day almost a decade ago. He is quoted as saying: “If this means one less death in the future, then I’m glad for that. But I just can’t find it in me to be glad one more person is dead, even if it is Osama Bin Laden.”
Like any other death, it is a death to be mourned.
This is something that Christians can understand. That even our enemies deserve the dignity of a mourned death. This is something that separates us from others. I don’t know if it’s uniquely Christian to do so, but it is surely in keeping with Jesus’ teachings.
This morning, my friend Patrick turned me on to this passage from scripture: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23)
Last night, as I sat in prayer after the news of bin Laden’s death, I thought of how conversion and redemption are better examples of justice.
Death simply ends injustice, it does not create justice. If God’s heart is to be our heart, then we should be praying for the redemption of the wicked, their salvation—not their demise. The converted soul can and will use their abilities for the right thing if they allow God to change their hearts and minds. If they allow God to renew them.
Shortly after 9/11, my friend Eddy and I were on our way to go surfing. We were talking about all that was going on and he told me that he had taken to praying for Osama bin Laden’s conversion. I thought this interesting and, at the time, a little corn-ball, but Eddy said that St. Paul was a terrorist once and look at what he was able to do after Jesus changed him.
I too began to pray for bin Laden’s conversion.
The transformation of injustice is powerful. It is redemptive.
We should be sad that bin Laden—and the world—were unable to see how powerful this could be.