What’s a Christian to do with the news that Osama Bin Laden – the world’s most wanted man – was killed in a firefight with American soldiers in Pakistan less than twenty-four hours ago? Smattered across the cable news networks and websites are pictures of people who, immediately upon hearing the news, took to the streets brandishing American flags and signs extolling the greatness of the occasion. Every major newspaper in America, as well as most others across the globe, featured block-letter headlines, some with the terrorist’s picture, and most including shots of the excitement and celebration had upon the news of his demise. In some places, it looked like New Year’s Eve festivities minus the earmuffs and confetti.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the operation that ended in Bin Laden’s death a “victory” and a significant milestone in the war against terrorism and Al Qaeda. News commentators, radio hosts and pundits alike have hailed the man’s death as wonderful tidings for family members of the victims of the 9/11 attacks , not to mention those who have suffered losses from the embassy bombings in Africa, the U.S.S. Cole attack, and the various terrorist acts committed across Europe in the past few years.
Among members of the American Church, there has no doubt been rejoicing. The question is, should we be rejoicing?
Let’s move beyond mere consideration of the concepts of punishment or vengeance, despite the fact that these seem to be the unspoken synonyms of justice in the minds of many people today. I’m not interested in whether or not we should value punishment and vengeance, even when such a thing seems fair and just and righteous. On the contrary, I’m concerned with the heart of the matter – that of celebrating the death of a person, even if that person is our worst enemy.
“You’ve heard it said,” Jesus is recorded to have taught, “love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of the Father who is in heaven.” Why are we to love our enemies? Why are we to pray for them (and, just to be clear, this does not mean to pray for them to die)? So that we may be sons of God – that our identity might be recognized in union with the kingdom of God. As Americans, we long for justice to come to those who have attacked us, but, as Christians, there is an allegiance that supersedes even the healthiest of patriotic passion. Jesus references that there was an older way to view our enemies. A more human way. In short, a more normal way. However, he was very clear that it was not his way. Not at all. We are meant to be “sons of the Father,” children of the kingdom of Almighty God. Thus, we are to celebrate only those things that glorify the kingdom. Hatred for our enemies is not one of them. Death to evildoers is not one of them. Certainly God is just, but his kingdom is one marked by unconditional love and abounding grace. There is no room in the kingdom of God for revelry at a person’s death, even if that person has vehemently rejected this God we serve.
There is only one death that we celebrate, and every year on Good Friday we do so humbly, with awe and reverence and thankfulness beyond words. This is the only death that truly glorifies the kingdom. It is the very thing on which this kingdom is built. It is the only death that matters, because it is the only one that didn’t last.