Monday, May 02, 2011


It has apparently taken me two and a half years to be affected enough to write another blog post, but Osama bin Laden was killed last night. I have a lot of thoughts. It is a rare situation when people feel open to be completely honest. This is one of those. I appreciate the honesty of people to say, "I'm glad he's dead," and frankly I'd expect nothing less. I am also touched by those who've expressed their conflicted feelings about being happy. That sort of honesty takes courage. It only seems fair to be equally honest.

My first response to the news was awe that it actually happened. I, like a lot of people, felt bin Laden was going to die of old age. My second response was nervousness.

This death does indeed bring some closure to an unsettling experience that began with a terrible tragedy almost a decade ago. I am one of those whose life perspective has been shaped by dealing with 9/11 and its repercussions.

I was beginning my Junior year of college at ENC, just south of Boston. The planes took off from Boston. There were guys on my floor who, for a while, were worried their father was on one of them. A fellow student lost a father as he responded from his fire house to help evacuate the buildings. I was not disconnected from this tragedy. It was real. It felt personal.

Two years later God changed my life. The result was a shift, from preparation for a career in politics to enrolling in seminary and the process of preparing for ministry. My encounter with scripture profoundly changed my perspective on life. I found a gospel that demanded my full allegiance. It meant a departure from the story my culture was writing for me to participation in a story God has been writing since the beginning of time.

News I would have cheered in 2001 brings sorrow in 2011.

I say this with no affinity for Osama bin Laden. He dedicated his life and his considerable wealth to increasing fear in our world. Fear, which is directly counter to a gospel of love. In this case, I cannot think of a more appropriate word to describe his legacy than: evil.

That being said, Osama bin Laden was a beloved creation of God's and every death is tragic. We do not have the right to kill anyone, no matter how evil. Judgement belongs to the Lord.

There has been much talk of justice, when people really mean revenge. Justice would have been for bin Laden to express real remorse and for the victims of his aggression to express real forgiveness; justice would have been for us to create a society in which George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden could live in peace.

I am not so deluded as to think this is possible, short of a miraculous work of God. Yet that miraculous work is the vision of the future laid out in scripture. What else do the wolf and the lamb, the bear and calf, the child and the serpent represent than sworn enemies living in harmony?

The real issue today is not how we handle death and killing (you can read my previous blog entry for that), but how we respond to them. I take Jesus seriously when he says an "eye for an eye" no longer applies, but instead we're called to love our enemies. Even if one feels that killing is necessary at some point, it should be done with repentance and regret - never celebration.

I am sorrowful because I believe that celebrating death is destructive to people. We cannot control the emotions life brings out in us, but we must control our responses. Revenge feels good; we've made someone suffer in the way we've suffered. But revenge can never bring healing. It can never bring restoration. That comes from loving those who don't deserve to be loved. It comes from remembering that we are all, simultaneously, undeserving of the love we're shown and profoundly deserving of love.

God weeps for Osama bin Laden. I'm not sure I can muster that response, but I do weep for people who rejoice in death and I apologize for any arrogance that may communicate.

1 comment:

JayMcPherson said...

Ryan, you are the man. You have expressed my own thoughts better than I could.

Rachel said something today that I thought was a good point: is it strange that more believers seem excited over the death of Osama as oppose to the resurrection of Christ last week?