Written by Audrie Zettick on May 2, 2011
One of the biggest debates I’ve seen among friends, relatives and people I value is whether it is proper, moral or even Biblical to rejoice in the death of Osama Bin Laden. One of my first thoughts upon learning of his death is echoed in a quote by Mark Twain:
“I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.”
Forgive me, I’m only human.
I am relieved for–and revel with–the young military personnel who celebrated with great joy last night at the ultimate defeat of a man who has caused so much death, either directly or indirectly: the approximately 3,000 killed on 9/11, the many hurt or killed on the unprovoked attack on the U.S.S. Cole, and the many who have died protecting this country since the “war on terrorism” began. This does not even include the many civilians around the world who have been killed in bombings by those who looked to Osama bin Laden (OBL) for inspiration or religious guidance.
I rejoice for those military personnel who might see this as the beginning of an end to their deployments, an end to worry about returning from missions far way. I pray and hope that it is this type of end, knowing the reality is likely much different.
I rejoice for the uplifted spirits of those directly and indirectly affected by the deaths on 9/11.
And, yes, I’m human. I rejoice in the end of an evil. I would have rejoiced at Hitler’s end too. I would, like now, have felt some joy, mostly relief but would not have gloated. No thinking person likes killing.
Yet, on Twitter the night of the death of Osama Bin Laden, I saw some people go “over the line,” turning my kind of rejoicing into something else. Awash in the type of filthy language, hate and vitriole that went beyond OBL. Something akin to what you’d hear on the streets of a Middle Eastern country, perhaps. A level of discomfort crept in. Where is the line drawn over relief/happiness/joy (choose your word) that one element of evil is stopped dead in its tracks versus vengeful sentiment?
I also saw some people implying that any “rejoicing” was wrong, influenced no doubt by the actions of the “over the line” celebratory statements of a few others. Others became confused about their own reactions, feeling guilty about expressing any joy.
And thus, a lot of discussion today.
Thankfully, most Christians I know think for themselves, trying to look to their Bible, their hearts, and the Holy Spirit for guidance. It’s tempered their reactions, but produced guilt if they feel any bit of happiness that OBL is now in the hands of his God. But this ability to think and not just feel is why from the time of William Penn to today, we’ve had differences regarding war, capital punishment and the like. Even if we disagree, we can revel in the fact that we are blessed with hearts to feel and minds to think and don’t mindlessly follow religious leaders, like some do. The past failings of many religions, Christianity included, are based on that trend of blindly following religion, with little thought to faith.
That said… yes, the Bible exhorts us to love our enemies, to avoid reveling in their failure.
“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” (Proverbs 24:17)
“God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they would repent, and live” (Ezek. 18:23).”
A wonderful quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. made the rounds today.
“I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
I could go on, but the point is made. Loving your “enemy” is a major tenet of the New Testament. But also, there are times to rejoice at their defeat:
- the Israelites rejoiced at the destruction of Pharaoh and his hosts.
- In Revelation 18-20, the church is called to find joy in “the destruction of antichrist, partly on account of their own deliverance and safety, and chiefly because of the glory of God, and of his justice displayed therein.” (See King James and NIV translation here).
Enemies aren’t always evil; in many places in the Bible the meaning of enemies is simply “those who oppose us.” Often it means people with whom we personally have a gripe. The meaning of ”falls” as in “enemy falls” is often thought to be “falling into sin.” No, I don’t rejoice in that.
But wicked rulers and blatantly unrepentant evil have always been enemies of God. This type of evil tries to circumvent God’s will and purposes. It causes God anguish, especially when His people suffer. Nowhere does the Bible say I have to love this type of evil. I rejoice that God has wrought justice on people like Hitler and Bin Laden, using men as his (imperfect) vehicles here on earth. I hold no illusion that there was any alternative, although I pray there will be alternatives in the future. At the same time, I feel sadness that justice had to be accomplished this way. I also hope for the day that there is no one to inspire a 12-year-old to strap on bombs and blow himself up for the purpose of killing innocent victims in the name of his religion.
I am relieved that OBL can no longer be a beacon for those that are choosing to put innocent men, women and children at risk, sometimes even between themselves and harm. In that relief comes some guilt-free rejoicing, tempered and temporary.
Thankfully, I have a God who understands the Christian journey that leads me to believe this way, and will forgive me if I’m wrong.