It was late Sunday night when I finished watching a DVD and decided to flip through the channels to see if there was anything on television worth watching. Within a few minutes, I was in my mother’s room informing her that the U.S. had found and killed Osama bin Laden. The president made his official announcement, and the newscast showed thousands of Americans beginning to gather in the streets outside the White House and in New York to cheer and celebrate the death of a national enemy.
I’ve read through a number of blogs since then, as people try to come to terms with what this means for us as a nation. Is this the death knell of al-Qaeda or are there other leaders to take his place? Is this America’s comeback after a decade of hard knocks and apparent decline? What does this do for Obama’s chances of re-election? Is there light at the end of the long tunnel of war in Afghanistan?
Some Christian bloggers, though, seem concerned with quite a different set of questions and rightly so. There is something disturbing, from a Christian point of view, about seeing people cheering a death as though it were a hard-won goal in a football game. I am reminded of the execution of Ted Bundy in the late 80s, when people gathered outside the prison where he was electrocuted holding signs that said things like, “Tuesday is FRYday.” Yes, there is great satisfaction in seeing cruelty answered with justice, but shouldn’t justice demand a different response? One that is quiet and reverent, especially when the price of justice is the life of a human being, however reprehensible?
And then there is that uncomfortable matter of praying for one’s enemies and the declaration of God that He does not rejoice when the wicked die (Ezek. 18:32).
But isn’t there good reason to celebrate here? This was a man who had no regard for human life himself. He apparently felt no remorse for the enormous suffering he caused, and there was something infuriating about the smug assurance of his own righteousness, even as he violated moral laws that are recognized by virtually every religion on the planet. His vision of how the world should be was repellent, and his methods of pursuing it even more so. I agree that a block party is the wrong response to his demise, but isn’t there room for some gladness and relief?
I want to be careful how I address that last question, but here is how I am meditating on this event in my own heart this morning:
Lord, I cannot be a disciple of Jesus and rejoice in the death of my enemy. Everything that I have been taught as a believer restrains me from celebrating, especially since I believe in Your justice. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, and it is in Your court of justice that this man’s crimes will ultimately come to an accounting. As I desire Your mercy upon me, and Your forgiveness for my sins, give me the grace of forgiveness towards others. Give me heart of such mercy that I can grieve, as surely You grieve, for a life misspent and lost.
But, Lord, there are some things today for which I can be thankful. I thank You that You have in wisdom established government and law among us. I am thankful for a nation that upholds the rule of law, and I am thankful for those You have placed in leadership among us who have the shrewdness and strength to find and deal with those who prey upon the innocent. I am thankful that, in an age of shifting values and moral relativism, there is a still an awareness of justice and a need to see it done. I thank You that evil never prospers, and that You have established such principles of justice that those who spread a net for others must sooner or later fall into it themselves. I thank You for those who defend our freedom at great personal cost, and I ask You to bless them and their families for sacrificing their own comfort and safety for the freedom and safety of others. I thank You for a country and a community where personal liberty and basic human dignity is respected and protected. I thank You for those who make it possible for me to write to You and of You publicly and without fear of reprisal.
Lord, my heart is full today for my country and for all that it has represented in the last two hundred years of our history. No one knows more than You how often we have been wrong in our goals and our methods. If You should mark iniquities, Oh Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness that You may be feared. And so the Psalmist says, Lord, that Your forgiveness – Your grace and Your mercy – may as surely create reverence and fear in us as Your judgment. Oh my Father, give America the blessing of that forgiveness. Shed such mercy and grace upon us as shall bring about a mighty awakening! Let us stand in awe of the works of the Lord in our day. And upon Your Church in America, let it be said that here is a people with whom the Spirit of God dwells.
As the National Day of Prayer approaches, Father, turn all sinful gloating and boastful pride into quiet gratitude for Your hand of protection. Be glorified and exalted among us, now and through all ages.
In Jesus Name,