Monday, May 2, 2011

When Bin Laden died.

It's no news by now that President Obama announced in the wee hours of the morning that Osama bin Laden is dead. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and omnipresent instapundrity, there's hardly a reaction on the emotional spectrum yet to be recorded.

The most quoted Scriptural quote of the day? "Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he is overthrown." (Proverbs 24:17) Okay, I get that. Real Christians shouldn't be all excited and dance around in the streets when even their worst enemy is assassinated. All you people who posted how proud you are: BAD! All peace-lovers: GOOD!

While we're quoting Scripture, we could probably force the sweet Holy Spirit to say just about anything that matches our own emotional reactions to Bin Laden's death. I think David asks the Lord several times to slay the wicked, pulverize his enemies, and gut the unrighteous (Psalms 54 and 58 come to mind). So, maybe the firemen dancing at Ground Zero were just expressing an equally Scriptural feeling.

This is a gross oversimplification. Every Tweet and Twittle and post is simply a symbol, a sign of much more complicated feelings and thoughts and theologies of war. (The death of bin Laden demonstrates again the incapacity of our social media to deal worthily with our most fundamental human thoughts and feelings and choices.)

It is of course only natural for the Western world to feel relief, even joy, at the news that a once-powerful terrorist is dead. If you are an American, it is natural to feel pride that "our guys got 'im!" You would hardly be human if you couldn't sympathize (or even empathize) with the demonstrations of rejoicing. David was human, too, and he sang songs of victory over the defeat of his enemies. And he wasn't speaking metaphorically.

But, as the oft-quoted Proverb reminds us, we are both natural and supernatural beings. We live in a world forever changed by the death of the only innocent man ever to live. We know, at the level of our transformed human nature, that Osama bin Laden was beloved of God. We know that he faces a terrible moment of personal judgement that we all will face. I hope for God's mercy on the day of my judgement. Can I forget to beg for mercy for bin Laden? As Jen writes, it is a central truth of our faith that God wants to forgive bin Laden, just as he wanted to forgive Hitler and Stalin and Mao. If I can't swallow that truth yet, I need to ask God to change my heart.

There are men and women alive today whose lives were destroyed in any meaningful sense by bin Laden. I cannot expect them, if I am merciful, to pray for him. Forgiveness is not a human action--it is divine. I did not lose anyone close to me on 9/11: Rage is rightly theirs. Because I was spared on that horrible day, however, I have the obligation to do what perhaps the bereaved cannot yet do. I must pray for mercy on his soul. The day will come when I cannot forgive someone, and I will need the prayers of others who can forgive.

After we pray for bin Laden, we can forgive ourselves for perhaps feeling a little joy at his death. The death of violent, however tragic, may also be, as the Vatican statement notes, a chance for peace. But posting about the glories of a bullet to the brain? I don't know if that will accomplish what we all hope for.


Melanie B said...

Well said. I think you got it exactly right about the joy being human the need to pray for mercy being our calling as adopted children of God. May God have mercy on Osama Bin Laden and on us all.

Betty Beguiles said...

Beautiful, Erika. :)

Mom2Seven said...

I agree, well said. +JMJ+

Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur said...

Excellent post. Thank you.

Matthew S said...

I haven't had a time to flesh out my full argument onto my blog (kinda waiting for more details)

but here are my initials throws of irritation

Good read here.

Under the Mercy,
The Stand up Philosopher