I found myself tragically struck by both the tone and the manner of popular response to the death of Osama bin Laden. I felt like I was watching some of the Arab world after 9/11. People celebrating in the streets and making noise and triumphantly proclaiming “God bless America.” I was particularly mortified by the response of so many Christians I’ve listened to in public and private conversations. I fear their response reveals, rather tragically, just how far we have actually fallen from comprehending the gospel itself. I have resisted writing on this topic since it seems everyone has something to say right now. Better to say very little than too much. I need time to think and pray. I do not think that I can add much to this discussion but I urge you to carefully read the reflections of a first-rate Christian theologian, Miroslav Volf.
Michael Horton also had a thoughtful opinion piece in Christianity Today. I commend it to you as well.
Comments are closed.
My Latest Book!
Use Promo code UNITY for 40% discount!
After the first wave of glee that seemed to encompass FB and certain media outlets more discerning voices seemingly began to appear. I think that initial wave for some folks was more of an expression of pent up anexiety, fear and disassociation caused by the events of 9/11 and probably do not indicate the true heart of those who uttered them. Others became more vitriolic and viperous as time went on. I was pleased to see the Vatican response as well as others who understood that God takes no pleasure in the death of any man but that great evil had been loosed upon the world by the actions of this man as well as by others. I am most fascinated by the sheer volume of tremendous news events over the past two months ( Gifford shooting, earthquake, tsunami, nuclear meltdown, tornados, royal wedding and now Bin Laden) I just wonder how we ever are able to reflect properly on these events when they come with such rapidity and intensity. It is quite a time.
I really do agree Ed. And the 24/7 cycle of news and comments just amps up every part of every story. These things have always happened but now we have a big stage upon which the world can see in seconds. Think about this — a single person tweeted from inside Pakistan about the attack of the Navy SEALS and the world began to know something before official channels could even respond. Amazing!!! Someone told me today that Twitter was all but down for a time over the past few days. We do love to talk to one another via these means.
John, I’ve struggled with my personal response to this and have probably been one whose sense of relief was on the edge. I cannot say that I experienced real glee, although I was tempted to go that way and I know many who did. Still, as a former professional soldier, with many friends still serving or recently retired (and some who have given MUCH since 9/11), this is intensely personal and the emotions are complex.
It brings up memories of many long discussions I had with fellow Christian officers while I was still serving, to wit, “May a Christian Serve in the Military?” The classic treatment, which I read many times as a young Army officer, is Lieutenant General William Harrison’s piece by that title. Among other things he specifically addresses the emptiness of pomp and glory in war. I commend that article to you.
The bottom line is this – yes, it is sometimes necessary and right for believers to serve in that way, out of necessity, but not for glory. I have little doubt that some on SEAL Team 6, and the special ops aviators who flew them into harm’s way, were committed Christians. They have likely gone through many more emotions than I have because of their direct involvement and proximity. While they/we cannot take pleasure in the death of anyone, that death is sometimes necessary.
Was one of my responses “God Bless America?” Absolutely, and I don’t regret that. I do regret that I did not explain my position more. I clearly needed more reflection before posting anything. Still, I don’t utter that flippantly, or as a triumphant battle cry, or even as something like a victorious chant after a ball game. This was not pointing up into the sky, ostensibly to give God the glory, following a touchdown.
It was certainly not glee at Bin Laden’s death. It was, however, an emotional release and a grateful remembrance of the many who gave all in the last ten years. It was also a hope (however slim) that this will be a step in preventing further loss of life, both of those in our military and those who are potential victims of terror. It’s as close to V-E Day or V-J day that we’ll ever have in this conflict.
Personally, I would have been okay with a capture, had the tactical situation made that possible, without further risk to the SEALS or special ops aircrews. I am, however, gratified that justice has been served and relieved that one great purveyor of evil is no longer a factor – dead or alive.
“God Bless America,” to me, and from me, was more akin to a thankful “Amen,” a plea to God to assure us that this was the right thing to do, and to ask for wisdom going forward. Again, the emotions are complex and I’m still sorting them out. I also recognize that we are not without responsibilities in this – personal and national repentance being significant in that regard.
One simple response by “Ms Muse” in the comments following the Christianity Today article was this, and I like it:
“Thankful to God that justice has been done; happy Bin Laden is gone, but not going to throw a party. God both sorrows and rejoices over the death of an evil man. It is a tightrope we all walk.”
Your thoughts are those of a serious, reflective Christian former-soldier and I profoundly respect them. I believe Romans 13 warrants what we did, though I must remind everyone that the earliest Christians would very likely not have understood “just war” theology since it came much later in terms of Christian ethics.
Having said this I too am glad bin Laden is no longer a threat and that he met civil justice before the law of a nation that was attacked. He claimed responsibility so there is nothing vague about his role in this evil.
And I insist, with your final comment, that our emotions have to be mixed and cautious if we are Christ followers.
Thanks Ed for a well-written response from a viewpoint we all need to hear. You keep things in balance and perspective for me.
Hi John and everyone,
I always appreciate your words and sense things similarly as you do. Thanks for having the courage to bring up an emotionally charged topic.
I will say after hearing some of the news today that the media will probably be going after the possibility that Bin Laden was captured and then killed . . . ?
Most of this stuff won’t mean much to many people who will simply be glad that Bin Laden is gone. But since details of information about his death keep conflicting with earlier reports, I suspect that things may get murkier and heated up than the simple celebration that was going on Monday, which I do not celebrate the killing and death of anyone, period.
Thank you for this thoughtful and insightful post. I too have been troubled by the over-jubilant response of many to this man’s death. As a military veteran and a firefighter who has close friends in the FDNY, many who lost close friends in 9-11, this issue is very close to me. I was on duty that morning and watched the horror unfold live from the fire house. So, I’m certainly relieved to know he is gone, and I feel that a sense of justice has been satisfied. However, that being said, I’m grieved by the many lives this man took by his insane idea of religion, and yet also grieved that it had to come to this. I’m glad necessary justice was carried out, yet I’m saddened by what his eternal destiny will most likely be because of the choices he made. Of course, he was never beyond God’s mercy while alive, but I don’t get the impression that he made any type of “death-bed conversion”. This was a sad but necessary end to a very tragic story of a man driven mad by his own radical religious beliefs. I know that the scripture says that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather when the wicked man turns back to God and away from his sin. I believe that I share this sentiment, but of course in my own sinful and limited way. I also know that this does not in any way end the threat of terrorism in our nation. It’s possible that it even heightened it, since many of his radical followers will want to avenge their leader. Just a reminder that true justice, and true and lasting peace will not be accomplished until our Lord returns to establish the fullness of His Kingdom on earth. “Come Lord Jesus”.