Osama bin Laden is dead and people are joyful, even giddy about it. I completely understand why. Like every other American who was over 5 years old on September 11, 2001, the images and sounds of death are indelibly seared into my memory. Planes flying into buildings, bodies landing with a thud onto concrete and asphalt 110 stories after they leapt. Noxious gas and debris coated people to the point that only tears and fear were visible through the dust. Anger, uncertainty and heartbreak rightfully hung over the country like an omnipresent cloud. It was a profoundly horrible time that we experienced together.
By all credible accounts, bin Laden was the leader of the group that caused that devastation. It is human nature to hate him and to want him dead, even to celebrate his death. I judge nobody for having that visceral reaction; in my human reactive response I share those sentiments. It’s the human way, but it is not the Way of Jesus.
To me, part of following Jesus is learning how he taught us to replace intuitive reactions with a scandalous love and grace. That’s true for day-to-day life—in decisions big and small—but a major event like bin Laden’s death gives us a more obvious and collective chance to examine the Way.
At Eikon Church we have been studying The Sermon on the Mount. The older I get I’m certain about fewer and fewer things, but I am certain that Jesus wasn’t joking around when he was teaching to the crowd on that hillside. I do not pretend to know exactly how to put into practice Jesus’s command to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” but I do know that Jesus actually meant it when he said it.
That belief prompts some really difficult questions in times like this. According to the Way, did we have the right to kill bin Laden at all? How have I shown him love if he was in fact my enemy? Where the rubber meets the road, do I place more priority on being part of a national collective than participating in the Kingdom of God?
Again, I’m not judging anybody because events like this stir very complex emotions within us. But for those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus (as messy as we all are at times), we cannot celebrate death. Those who believe in hell in any form cannot rejoice in anyone, including bin Laden, spending time there. We cannot put our human need for revenge ahead of the scandalous love of Jesus. The Way of Jesus is peculiar and counterintuitive, and indulgences in those kinds of reactions and emotions are anything but.