Some Thoughts on the Death of Bin Laden

I had mixed feelings this morning when I read my news feed and learned that Osama Bin Laden had been killed.

I was glad that justice had been done and I am happy that Bin Laden is no longer a threat to the United States. But at the same time I was bothered that lives, including Bin Laden’s, were taken in the process.  My theology teaches me that all human beings are created in the image of God and have inherent dignity and worth.  Whenever a human being dies in this way it is a tragedy.

I was thus bothered even more by the way in which Americans celebrated Bin Laden’s death.  Some of the celebratory displays on college campuses and elsewhere brought back memories of people in the Middle East celebrating the 9-11 attacks.  We condemned such behavior then, but seem to be engaging in the same behavior now.

I have found the thoughts of several writers to be helpful as I have tried to process Bin Laden’s death.  A quote from Martin Luther King Jr. has been making it around the web today:

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.  Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive our hate: only love can do that.

And then there is this quote from the Vatican:

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.

One of the best Christian reflections on Bin Laden’s death comes from Christian writer Gideon Strauss, CEO of the Center for Public Justice.  Here is a taste of his piece in Christianity Today

The question that does trouble me is how we as Christians should respond to the news of this death, especially those of us who are citizens or friends of the United States of America.
The immediate response to the news was rejoicing in the streets. Online, some of my friends and acquaintances expressed sentiments of the “O-B-L, roast in hell” variety. And I understand this response, and have at many times in my life felt similar sentiments when faced with the perpetrators of intentional grievous harm to others. The Christian Scriptures themselves show, in particular in imprecatory prayers like Psalm 137, that the people of God often feel a desire for vengeance, and take a sometimes shockingly expressed delight in the prospect or realization of punishment for enemies and evildoers:

Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare,
down to its foundations!”
O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
blessed shall he be who repays you
with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock!

But beyond this immediate response, understandable as it is, I believe it is necessary for Christians to pause, and to consider the death of Osama bin Laden within the deeper perspective of human sin and divine grace. In the end, no death should give us pleasure. Another Scripture passage coming across the Twitter transom has been Ezekiel 18:23: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”

A lot to think about.  Let the conversation commence… 

3 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on the Death of Bin Laden

  1. Dr. Fea,

    How would you reconcile Pslams 58 with this death of Osama? I see it as a way for the righteous to celebrate with the wicked being destroyed. I can`t stand all this hate America rhetoric thrown out by the left. What is worst: they use scripture for their own purposes. i can see Osama as a child of God but he killed many muslims and christians and people. The Bible does support Just War. The pacificsts around Messiah forget this.

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  2. I agree with your post. I also thought of Proverbs 24:17-18: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; Or the LORD will see it and be displeased, and turn His anger away from him.”

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  3. Thank you for this, Dr. Fea. I, too, have been processing through the reactions that have taken over the media (I can only imagine the historical research process in a century when students have to pour over Twitter and Facebook documents, if they exist, to do their own research of our current times).

    A popular image that has been making its way through the Seminary is that of a Rabbinic tale of the Exodus: “The Holy One sat in judgment over the Egyptians in accord with the measure of justice and drowned them in the sea. In that instant, the ministering angels wished to utter song before the Holy One, but He rebuked them, saying, 'the works of My hands are drowning in the sea, and you would utter song in my presence?'”

    The only thing more troublesome to me than the extreme joy at a person's death is another idea: “Too bad Osama died, he wasn't saved.”

    I think it should be a time where people take special effort to not only process through what the event means, but what our reactions mean, as well.

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