Think about that sentence for a moment: A man who terrorized the United States for decades, perpetrated the September 11 terrorist attacks, and initiated a global war against the west is dead. For nearly 10 years, we dealt with the death that still stings, the wars that were initiated, and mourned the loss of lives.
Today, Osama Bin Laden is dead. It is a surreal sentence to write, and I’m not sure we can have a complete picture of what this will mean for the United States for some time. Will this mean the end of the War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq? Will our troops be coming home soon? Will there be a retaliation attack?
These are all valid questions, but the question that I – and others – have been thinking about is this: How do we, as Christians, respond to the death and to Bin Laden’s life?
Let us be clear, Bin Laden was evil. He was committed to killing others to promote his own views. He wanted to destroy those whom he disagreed with.
Yet, we also know that Bin Laden was a human. He was created in the image of God, though he decided against following that image in his life. He had a soul; that basic identity of who we are as a person.
He was our enemy, but at the same time he was a fellow human.
In Matthew’s gospel, Christ calls his followers to pray for those who persecute you and to pray for our enemies. It is not a prayer that God will get his revenge and seek our purification and justification. Instead what Christ calls us to is to pray for our enemies that their hearts may be transformed, that they may find peace, and seek reconciliation with those whom they would harm and torture. We are called to pray for the Bin Laden’s of the world that they may turn from their evil, be forgiven, and live life in a new way.
Even more, we do not rejoice in the loss of life. We can rejoice that the war in Afghanistan and Iraq may soon be over. But, we do not rejoice in death. For life and the sanctity of life is too precious, and the hope of all people to be transformed and renewed in the image of Christ is too important to hope for the death of any one person, including Bin Laden. The Vatican said it best today in saying we do not rejoice in one person’s death.
But, Bin Laden is evil, and so does that not give us permission to rejoice at his death? Ezekiel 18:23 gives us some guidance. In it Ezekiel quotes the Lord as saying “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” The Lord had been saying, in the preceding verses, that those who turn from their evil ways will be forgiven. Their sins will not cost lead to the second death – eternal distance from relationship with God.
Bin Laden will have to deal with God and answer to God for the atrocities he committed.
We do not rejoice in death, because with the death of any criminal comes the end of the potential of that person to be transformed, to seek forgiveness, and live a new life with the Triune God in this life. We do not rejoice in death – of any person – because we should desire this transformation not just for the person in the cubicle next to us, but also the one who would desire nothing but our own death.
We rejoice that this long war may soon be over. We mourn the loss of life, any life.
Today, let us pray for the families who were impacted by the tragedy of September 11, 2001 – the families who lost loved ones, the First Responders who gave their all, our troops, and our leaders. Let us pray for our world and pray that this will mean that peace and security will come, and soon.
Let us pray for those who desire to kill, to persecute, and to engage in these terrorist activities. Let us pray that they may see the errors in their ways, find forgiveness, seek the face of God, and be restored into the image of God.