Monday, May 02, 2011

Preaching bin Laden's Death

Note- this post was picked up by Ministry Matters, so you can participate in the conversation there if you prefer

I haven't been able to turn on the TV in the last 24 hours without hearing people analyze the death of Osama bin Laden from every conceivable angle. Even though it's Monday, it's very likely that this will still be on people's minds come Sunday. So if we are to do theology with "the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other", as Karl Barth said (or having both apps open on our iPad), then clearly pastors have to say something about it in the coming days.

I've had a lot of thoughts, few of them complete and some that are even in tension with one another, so I'm just going to throw them up here and invite discussion.

If you're a pastor, I'm really curious about how you're planning on addressing this issue. If you're a church-goer, I'd love to hear what you think your pastor might say or how you would want your pastor to address this. And if you're not a church-goer, what would you imagine a loving, faithful pastoral response would be?

OK, here goes.

The first images I saw were of a crowd of mostly college students cheering and spilling beer on one another outside the White House, acting like their team had just won a championship. That made my stomach turn, because it's likely that few if any of these people actually lost anyone in 9/11 or the War on Terror.

Speaking of the families of the victims, we saw images of a much more somber gathering at Ground Zero. All the victims' families expressed relief that bin Laden is no longer able to hurt anyone, but they also acknowledged that it won't bring their loved ones back.

I can also understand relief and celebration on the part of our servicemen and women, who have been feeling the strain of the War on Terror for a decade now.

Having spent a lot of time with combat veterans the past few years, I've noticed a clear difference in the attitudes of those who have seen the guy next to them get killed, and the attitudes of those whose combat experience comes solely from playing first-person-shooter video games. Those who have seen combat first hand don't have any romantic notions about it, nor do they cheer and chest-thump when hearing tales of others in combat.

While I'm not sad that he's gone, I don't believe we should rejoice at the death of anybody, even a person as evil as bin Laden.

I'm uncomfortable at how many Christians on the net are rejoicing about bin Laden being in Hell. That may well be the case, but let's leave judgment to God, and direct our energy toward compassion for his victims.

How will bin Laden's death impact the very poor perception (born out of more than a little latent racism) of Muslims and Arab-Americans?

What will this mean in terms of our involvement in Afghanistan?

I was really shocked that bin Laden was still alive. Since he's easily recognizable, has serious health problems, and was supposedly living in caves all these years, I figured he was dead.

Since he was living in a suburb of Islamabad, what does that say about Pakistan and our diplomatic and military relationships with them?

I really appreciate hearing how our military went about this raid. They verified their intelligence, and they went in and did a "surgical strike" (I think that's the correct term) on the ground, doing everything they could to make sure bystanders didn't get caught in the crossfire. I'm impressed that we didn't bomb the whole neighborhood in hopes of getting him and chalking all the other deaths up to "collateral damage".

I also appreciate how they buried bin Laden's body in accordance with Islamic tradition, washing the body and saying prayers before burying it at sea. I applaud them for maintaining the moral high ground when few people would have faulted them for doing otherwise.

I struggle with the idea that we "had" to kill bin Laden. It was a choice, and I think there were no good options available. He actively plotted acts of terror and rejoiced in the deaths of innocent people, so doing nothing to stop him when we had the ability to would make us complicit in his acts. If someone was going to harm my family and I harmed them in the process of preventing them from doing so, I would not consider it a "good" thing, but doing nothing would have been worse. I'm not comfortable with the phrase "necessary evil", but I do believe that the reality of living in a fallen world means that we sometimes have to choose the "least bad option" when good options are off the table.

A few scriptural passages that have come to my mind or have been mentioned by others that may be relevant:
Ezekiel 18:32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!

Proverbs 24:17 Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice

And, of course, Matthew 5:44-45 (the whole Sermon on the Mount, for that matter) But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

OK, so that's my brain dump. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Where am I right? Where am I wrong? What haven't I considered? All I ask is that you keep the comments respectful.


Alan said...

I agree with you about the parties in the streets, and the celebrating. It sickened me also. I know he did evil things, but Jesus died for him as much as He did for me. I don't like the idea of anybody burning in Hell, even someone like him. Thank you for your 'brain dump'. Good words for further thinking. God bless you.

Will said...

Matt, I am amazed at your insight and articulation of complex issues. Very well put, my friend!