Bin Laden Is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself…

What I’m about to type is going to make some people angry. So, let me begin with a couple of disclaimers that I hope the reader will keep in mind.

  1. I am not sad that Osama Bin Laden is dead. I say that neither with pride and satisfaction (though many feel those things) nor with embarrassment. I’m just being honest. One thing I know for sure is that he won’t kill anyone else, or plan anyone else’s death. He also won’t commit atrocities in the name of God. Those are good things.
  2. I am a strong supporter of the men and women who serve and who have served in the U.S. military. I have seen the unfathomable cost of their service up close. I have had the honor of spending thousands of professional hours helping many of these brave people find healing for minds and souls that have been horribly damaged by the terrible things they beheld or felt they had to do while serving their country. I believe that many of them (along with many people who serve in civilian law enforcement) do so with a genuine spirit of self-sacrifice. They are literally willing to lay down their lives for others. I can pay people no higher compliment than to observe that their service in that way truly demonstrates a Christ-like spirit. I have great respect and admiration for those who are motivated by that spirit Inflatable Arches.

With those things on the table, I have to also say that the death of Bin Laden has left me with some deep feelings of unease. One reason for this disquiet is very practical: I simply do not believe that my loved ones are now any less likely to be harmed by a terrorist than they were a couple of days ago. In fact, the immediate danger may be even greater, given the compulsion for retaliation and the fact that this mass murderer, apparently living in camouflaged and sequestered opulence while simultaneously condemning capitalism is now a martyr in the minds of many.

The other reasons for my discomfort over the recent historic events are more theological. Jesus did say, “love your enemies,” after all. I can’t help but think about that now. I think it’s in the top two or three hardest things he asked us to do, especially at a time like this. My question is, do you think he really meant it? What if he did? Some Christian people are troubled by that question now. More disturbingly, I think many others are not troubled by it at all. In fact, to many Christians, the words of Jesus are completely irrelevant to our reaction to the news of Bin Laden’s death. We long ago jettisoned that “love your enemies” thing, along with a bunch of the other really hard stuff that he talked about in the Sermon on the Mount. As a functional and practical matter, it seems to me that many Christians have absolutely no interest in applying this teaching to their lives. What Jesus said literally has nothing to do with how they think about such matters. That’s a pretty strange way to be Christian, isn’t it? I am no good at loving my enemies. I hope and pray that at least I will learn to want to get better at it, rather than take pleasure in the demise of my enemies because “they had it coming.” If I understand the Bible, we all have it coming. If Jesus’ words do not speak to the death of Bin Laden, then to what event could they possibly apply? I think followers of Jesus are obligated to think about that. Isn’t Jesus asking us to love Bin Laden? Does that mean we can be glad he’s dead? I don’t pretend to have glib answers to that question, but I do believe that Christians should be asking it of themselves.

Another thing that messes with my head about all of this is what it says about the nature of violence as an idol, as an instrument of power and, with apologies to Marx, a kind of opium of the people. The violent death of an enemy satisfies our longing for a reckoning. I’ve heard people say, “He’s been brought to justice.” What happened is that he got “double-tapped,” with two slugs in his brainpan and the remains got fed to the sharks. A statement was made: “If you murder a bunch of Americans, we will hunt you down and bring you to justice by killing you violently.” Our country, the justice for which it stands, and by extension, our religious freedom (for which I am incredibly thankful) is made secure at the point of a gun. It’ll be maintained as long as we can do violence better than our enemies can. In that context, can American military power become an idol – the powerful force in which we find security and protection? If our sense of security comes from our ability to enforce our will on others by violent force, do we compromise what it means to be a servant of the Prince of Peace? When Peter and John were arrested (as recorded in Acts 4,) their religious freedom was threatened. Interestingly, they did not take up arms to protect their right to speak the truth about God. They instead prayed that God would give them boldness to speak, even if it meant their lives.

None of the questions or ideas I’m posing are my original thoughts. They’ve been debated and fleshed out for generations. I don’t pretend that we can arrive at all of the answers now. I’m just saying that the events of the day provide an opportunity for Christians to demonstrate that God’s idea of justice is not the same as that of our worldly culture. God’s direction for how to treat and think about our enemies is also not the same as that of the world. Neither is God’s idea about what constitutes strength and power.

God will bring real justice at the new creation. When that great time comes, power will not rest in the human ability to enforce one’s will if you’re better at the use of force. Peace will not be what happens when we finally kill off all of our enemies. It will be what God brings when he heals the nations, destroys death (God’s enemy,) and sets the broken creation right.

Until then, we should try to love our enemies. We should grieve death and violence in all of their forms and pray against their dominance in our world. We should work to embody forgiveness, peace and grace; thereby living lives that preview the new earth that God will one day bring to completion. May he do it quickly.

16 thoughts on “Bin Laden Is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself…

  1. Brian,

    The chanting of, “USA – USA” outside the White House has barely faded away and here you are, questioning the validity of our rejoicing. A very courageous move! I’m surprised you haven’t had any backlash. Maybe you have but you’ve edited it out – just wondering.

    I’ll have to admit that the two sides to this discussion are exactly the debate that has been going on in my household. Sheila (the “nice one” of us, has asked the tough questions, and has frankly thrown a wet blanket on my celebrating (“Yaaaaa! We got him!”).

    In the time that has elapsed since OBL became fish food, I’ll have to say that the Christian perspective has prevailed, I’ve repented of my rejoicing, and as you said, I’m not feeling very good about it all.

    Like Joe Cooney said, I believe that pacifism would result in a total loss of our religious freedoms, if not our lives – but then I have to ask, does God care? I mean, of course God cares, but does he really care whether I meet him after succumbing to
    a) a heart attack, or b) the work of a Muslim terrorist?

    Maybe he not only cares, but would be happier with c) the work of a Muslim terrorist while praying for the man’s soul after witnessing to him and attempting to give him a Bible.

    Thanks for another perspective Brian.

    • ‘Appreciate your reflections, Bill. I still wonder about the religious freedom issue. Jesus’ followers in the New Testament lived under a government that persecuted them for the practice of their faith. It seems to me that if Christians were supposed to do violence to secure that freedom, there was plenty of immediate context to provide the opportunity for the New Testament to say so. I also think history is on the side of pacifism in this argument. Which has done more to promote the practice of Christianity, the martyrdom of the saints or the Crusades?

      My biggest moral dilemma with the use of violence is not with the religious freedom issue. It’s with the protection of the innocent. That’s a conversation for another day. Thanks again for being part of the discussion.

  2. You raise valid and important points and ask haunting questions, Brian. The problem is not only that we don’t know how to love our enemies, as Christians we don’t even know how to behave much less think without contempt toward those we do not even like. Good writing, Brian. Glad I saw it on Facebook.

  3. Brian
    I’m not a great reader of philosphers but I remember Plato had an idea of the ideal plane. As a christian I attempt to keep a foot in the ideal plain but because of events like 9/11 and terroism in general force me to keep one foot in the real world. America asked the seal that did the actual shooting to keep his foot in the real world. I know because it was asked of me many years ago. However, no rejoicing here.

    • Joe, I respect you and your opinion and appreciate the comment. Help me understand how what you’re saying is any different than saying that Jesus’ teachings don’t really apply in the “real world.” It sounds as though you’re saying that Christian teachings only apply in some ideal plane. Did Jesus not really understand how things are in the “real world?” I’m struggling with making sense of that.

      • Brian
        Jesus teachings absolutely apply in the real world. However many in the world will not accept his teachings. (Another of his teachings)Many who do not are still good citizens and cause no real problems. Many others under the control of Satan seek great harm to people. I feel God has established governments to protect people generally. The Apostle Paul even used his Roman citizenship to gain protection in hostile circumstances. It is my belief that total pacificism will result quickly in no religious freedom at all. “Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalms 97:10

        • A lot of people agree with you, Joe. I also agree that God establishes government for the purpose you’ve described. I’m not sure that directly relates to the choices of Christians to do violence. Hating evil is in no way incompatible with pacifism. It is also a big mistake to assume that the only options available in fighting evil are either violence or doing nothing. When you say “total pacifism will result quickly in no religious freedom at all,” you’ve shifted from a biblical argument to a practical one. The work of Gandhi and King are evidence against your assertion, not to mention the work of Peter and John in Acts 4. It seems to me that “Love your enemies,” and “Do not resist an evil person,” get reduced to pretty empty words if we take that approach. It’s almost as though Jesus can’t be taken seriously because he’s just too idealistic. Thanks for being a part of the lively discussion.

  4. Dr. Stogner,

    I read this with a heavy heart today. Your words are exactly what has been pulling at my heart today, only I couldn’t explain it quite the right way. Thank you for sharing this. The melancholy that I have been feeling over bin Laden’s death is seemingly much more clear to me – I am trying to love our enemy, yet feel deep love and compassion for everyone that bin Laden affected. Yet, I still feel terribly lost and confused in all of this…

    • Kate, I think many of God’s people in the USA (certainly including me) are feeling that confusing mass of emotions. Thanks for reading and commenting. (It’s always great to reconnect with RC grads.)

  5. Thank you Brian I needed that. How should a person (me) feel when someone like him dies. I strongly beleive that we should love our neighbor and our enemys. I also beleive that I am not to judge someone that is Gods job. I just dont know how I should feel now. to me it is bittersweet….

  6. Thank you for your thoughts on this subject, Brian. I too have been feeling a little uneasy about how I should be “feeling” about the death of Bin Laden. My human side and spiritual side have been warring against each other with my human side feeling as though he got what he deserved but my spiritual side pondering the same question of am I not supposed to love my enemies? The points you made were very thought provoking and humbling.

    • Thanks, Michelle. I think events such as these illustrate what you’re talking about – the internal struggle that we all fight.

  7. You are exactly right.

    As for the opiate of violence check out Giorgio Agamben on the Homo Sacer and Carl Schmidt on Sovereignty… both talk about society as founded upon a prior violence… Society rests upon the existence of those who are included in it insofar as they are excluded from it (those who have the capacity to be killed). Augustine anticipates a peculiarly Christian version of this in his description of the Roman civitas terrena as a securing of peace through the murder of a fraternal rival which of course is a pervert repetition of Cain and Abel. Whereas the Torah identifies with the murdered brother, the earthly city celebrates the securing of peace through murder and the building of cities.

    My only disagreement is that while you can love an enemy, or the founders or maintainers of earthly cities…while you can sympathise…you can’t support.

    • Thanks, Tristin. Thinking of Agamben, I reckon, to my sorrow, there’s a bit of an oath-breaker in all of us.

  8. Good thoughts and questions, Brian. I have seen other Christians ask some of these same things in the past 14 hours.

    I can’t say I’ve felt the need to celebrate. Like you, I’m not sure how Osama’s death suddenly makes the world a safer place. However, there is a sense of pride and patriotism within me due to the fact that Enemy #1 has finally been brought to justice (at least justice as we humans perceive it).

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