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.
“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.