tea tom

a simple life
MAY 2, 2011 1:07PM

Why I Am Not Celebrating Osama's Death

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At the risk of being accused of being a Bible thumper, I open with a few verses of scripture.

"Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble." - Proverbs 24:17

 "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?" -Ezekiel 18:23

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons and daughters of your Father in heaven.” - Matthew 5:43-45

Before I say more, let me acknowledge that I did not lose anyone I know or love on September 11, 2001. Some who read this may have, however, and I do not wish to add to any of their pain or anger or grief over their losses. This is not written to those who have experienced first-hand the terror for which Osama bin Laden was responsible, on 9-11 or before or after. I cannot speak for them, nor would I dare. Rather this is written for people, like me, who have not endured personal loss at the hands of this man and who also claim to be followers of Jesus.

Since the death of bin Laden was announced, the world has been all atwitter, both figuratively and literally, as people have proclaimed their feelings about the news on blogs, in comments, and on various social media sites. While some amount of rejoicing and braggadocio is to be expected, I have been sorely disappointed by the reactions of some Christians. Some of the comments I have read from Jesus-followers I personally know include:

“I always knew Bin Laden was a lousy boxer...couldn't take a shot to the head. Good riddance, Scumbag.”

“10 years ago Bin Laden killed thousands of people and ruined my birthday and now he is finally dead! God bless America!”

Another person, who is a lifelong member of the church of my childhood and youth, wrote: “They say that only 10% of muslims are radical. One down, and 15 million to go.”

Today is not a day for rejoicing for followers of Jesus, let alone a day to call for the killing of more people. It is instead, as many or most days are, a day for mourning and sorrow that human beings are so often dealers in death and destruction. It is a day to mourn the loss of human life on 9-11. A day to mourn the deaths of thousands of our military personnel and tens of thousands of innocent civilians in our undeclared wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a day to mourn the fact, that the words Jesus himself spoke 2000 years ago are still true: “"Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:42).

There is an ancient Jewish commentary on the Torah (a midrash) about what happened when the Israelites were able to escape from their slavery in Egypt. As you may remember, the children of Israel were able to cross the Red or Reed Sea on dry land after the waters have been parted for them by God, but when the Egyptian soldiers tried to continue their pursuit, the waters come rolling back over them and they subsequently drown. 

In her sermon “Rejoicing at the Fall of Our Enemies,” Rabbi Melanie Aron recounts the midrash:

“At that point the angels [in heaven] break out into song, they are so happy, so relieved that the Israelites are finally safe. All that God had done for the Israelites has finally paid off, the Israelites are free at last.

God sees the angel's rejoicing, but God isn't pleased. "My creatures are drowning in the sea", God says, "and you sing songs".

The Midrash tells us that God was not angry with the Israelites for singing and rejoicing at the shores of the sea. The people had just escaped great danger. It was only human that they express their relief and their joy. But the angels were supposed to have a somewhat broader perspective. They should have kept their awareness of the spark of God that is in every person, even the Pharaoh himself.

They should have remembered God's teaching, ‘it is not the death of the wicked that I seek, but only that he should turn from his evil ways and live.’”

It is my belief that Christ-followers are to have a broader perspective than other people as well. In fact, I believe that we are actually called to follow Christ, to take his words seriously, and to model our lives on his life. And if we have actually listened to what Jesus has said to us in scripture, if we have truly prayed for our enemies, then we will not rejoice at their demise.

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I understand and respect your feelings, but as a lifelong New Yorker, I have no problem being pleased with the death of the man who murdered 3000 people. Yes, some of those comments are way over-the-top, but there are so many media outlets today that it is too easy to pick out a few extreme statements, and I always take it with a grain of salt when someone cites a few out-of-context quotes as being representative.
Cranky, I understand and respect your feelings as well. That is why I opened with the paragraph I did. I cannot speak for those more personally affected by bin Laden's actions. And I can certainly understand that this man needed to be dealt with. But I would also add that the quotes I lifted up were from those I found on my facebook feed and are people I know and have met personally. I did not lift them out of their context or find them in the general media. Plus, they are from folks who claim to be followers of Jesus. I guess this just troubles me on some deep level, as I would not expect Jesus would do or say the same at the death of his enemies.
Looked at from a strictly theological standpoint:
It's funny that you should cite the Exodus story. There's a tradition at the Passover Seder (which you're probably familiar with) where we spill one drop of wine from every glass for each plague, the point being that anyone's suffering is still suffering.

I'm glad the guy's dead but I'm not happy he's dead. I guess there's a difference. I don't need him to be miserable, I need him to be gone. He is.
Great post. Thanks for your take on it.
koshersalaami - I was going to add that tidbit about the wine, but decided to keep my post a little shorter. Thanks for sharing it, and I guess my own feelings echo yours.

Charlie - Thanks for coming by and for the comment.
it would seem, human nature hasnt changed in thousands of years.
Tea Tom,

I agree with you, even while readily confessing to Paul's lament in Romans (7, I think); I do not live the life I wish that I did. For I am a violent and vengeful person myself, if not in deed, certainly in thought.

I think the Midrash says it all, "My creatures are drowning in the sea". I believe, no I am convinced; we are made by a Creator who loves us all and wishes for none to perish in the hate and darkness of the consequences of their deeds. Sadly, that does not and will not happen in this broken world, but we all bear the image of our Creator, everyone of us. It is when we do believe that, or forget it that we are most like our enemies and least like our Creator.

Lord, have mercy on me the sinner.
Your take is similar to my postShow Some Restraint :

That said, the problem with introducing Bible verses is that there are so many that justify exactly the sort of terrorism practiced by Osama bin Laden:

"When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you- and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy " (Deut 7:1-3).

"Joshua commanded the people, “Shout! For the LORD has given you the city! The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the LORD. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the LORD and must go into his treasury.” When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys." (Joshua 6: 16-20)

How can one reconcile the vengeful, wrathful, xenophobic God of the OT, with the kind, loving, forgiving God of the NT? I daresay they are so different as to not be the same God at all.

Problem is, the OT has not been excised from the scriptures of any of the Abrahamic faiths, and all of them continue to use these tall tales as teaching tools. And what they teach is that as long as you are insane and hear voices in your head, or are exceedingly ambitious and talk yourself into believing you do, you can justify any atrocity.
vzn, I am afraid you are correct.
mhorguinn, I couldn't agree with you more. It is good to see you here, btw. Looking forward to your next post.
Tom, I understand what you are saying. I subscribe, however, to the idea of God's progressive revelation of God's self in scripture and throughout history and time. By the time one gets to the later prophets on the OT, the view of God has modified and grace and mercy become predominant themes. And as a follower of Jesus, it is my view that he best displays who and what God is throught his life and teachings.
Tom: Oh, and the revelation of God continues.