As a scholar in foreign policy and international affairs, my blog reader has been blowing up this week about the operation that found and killed Osama bin Laden on Sunday. Most, as you would expect, are from political or defense-related blogs I follow as part of my day job. However, a good chunk of the blog posts I’ve read this week on the subject have come from the Biblioblogosphere, as Christian bloggers struggle internally and amongst one another to strike the right balance between celebrating both the execution of justice and a much needed victory for our country and soberly mourning the death (and likely damnation) of a wasted soul, but for the grace of God no different than you or I.
The celebration of God’s justice can be defended with a myriad of verses: Gen 9:6, Ex 21:23-25, Deut 28:63, 2 Chron 20:27, Ps 137:8-9, Prov 1:25-26 & 11:10, and Eze 5:13. Note that all of these come from the Old Testament.
However, the most prominently cited in the discussion were these three:
Prov 24:17 | Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.
Eze 18:32 | For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.
Matt 5:43-44 | You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’
Here are some of the highlights, the ones that resonated most with me (click the links to read them in their entirety):
Douglas Wilson argues for the due celebration of the inherent goodness of justice (and even, grudgingly, commends the president) and of the role of government as agent of divine justice:
The fact that we are all sinners, and that we all deserve death and judgment, is quite true. But if we hasten to remind ourselves of this reality at moments like this, the effect is not to heighten our sense of awareness of sin, but rather to flatten it.
Joe Carter urges sobriety not out of sympathy for the deceased (‘No one should shed a tear for bin Laden, for he received the justice due to one who shed innocent blood.‘) but as a matter of guarding our hearts against the temptations of vindictiveness and wrath:
Yet our relief at his death must be tempered by a Christian view of humanity. We must never forget that the evil comes…from the heart of a fallen, sacred yet degraded, human being. If we are to preserve our own humanity we must not forget that our enemy differs from us in degree, not in kind.
Daniel Kirk does a good job, I think, capturing the distinction I’ve found useful between our reactions as Americans and as Christians. Celebrations are right insofar as they rejoice in the patriotic victory of our military over an aggressor. They are perverse insofar as they take delight in the violent death and damnation of another man.
Brian LePort merely notes the tension that exists between wanting to love your enemy and the human, Biblical urge to celebrate the deliverance, of sorts, from a decade overshadowed by this man’s crimes: ‘It seems to be a basic human reaction to breath a sigh of relief, even to let forth a shout of joy, when someone who was an oppressor has been driven into the grave.‘
Matthew Lee Anderson has my favorite response thus far with these gems:
I have little interest in the lazy abdication of our pursuit of justice through moral equivalency or the suspension of judgment for what I might call a theocentric nihilism. Let’s not speak of sex approximating the goodness of God’s love while denying our ability to imitate his justice. To do so is to arbitrarily select which attributes we prefer to claim as human, and leave the rest to the abyss .
Which is to say, perhaps a possible Christian response to the death of a terrorist half a world away is to pause and consider the deadly seriousness of the world, pray the Maranatha and for those who are in leadership, and then return to seeking a life of quiet dignity, to seeking to live at peace with all men and cultivating a heart of gratitude for the many blessings that we have been given and the many liberties that we enjoy.
These posts collectively capture my range of responses to Sunday’s events. To be frank, my first reaction, after, ‘What? Whoa!’, was, ‘God have mercy on his soul,’ followed by a profound sense of relief for and pride in my country and the military.
I celebrate the gutsy political decision, the brilliant tactical success, the elimination of a haunting and inconvenient symbol, and the catalyst to moving forward from the last decade into the next, strategically and politically. In that vein, the fans at the Phillies game who broke into chants of ‘USA! USA!’ as the news leaked out on Twitter and Facebook represent the right and honest celebration that I believe is called for on these occasions.
But I also thought about the lives that this man destroyed*, both on that day and in the ten years since (and before, I suppose), and I lament his choices, his ideology, and his death and damnation. For this reason, while I’m not going to condemn anyone else’s celebration, I’ll refrain from the vindictive and morbid mockery of bin Laden and eschew the jokes (some quite funny, I’ll admit) that have arisen in the past few days, as a sign of respect due to any bearer of God’s image and in protection of that same image within me.
* An odd enough place for something like this, but the crassly funny TV blog Warming Glow had a poignant piece by its creator, Matt Ufford, a former Marine and young veteran, on his reaction to hearing the news and trying desperately, in this broken world, to attach meaning to the lives he’d seen lost and the lives he’d taken in the course of events set in motion by 9.11.