Yesterday morning I walked into the living room to find Sydney and Parker on the couch watching the coverage on Fox News of the death of Osama Bin Laden. As the footage rolled of packed streets with American flags waving and people cheering as if we’d just won the Final Four, Sydney asked one simple question: “Are they happy because someone died?”
This, my friends, is a tough one.
There is a part of me – the fully American, chest-pumping, fist-bumping, man’s man part of me – that wants to run into the streets and burn couches and celebrate the victory of the American way of freedom against a terrorist who was bent on (and in some ways, successful in) changing our way of life.
That is the part of me that reads Proverbs 11:10 and totally gets why people were running around like it’s New Year’s Eve in Times Square celebrating. When evil has held you captive, and suddenly it’s gone, you want to party. I get it, and even God gets it, because He wrote the very words that give us insight into that very human tendency.
When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy. (Proverbs 11:10)
So it makes total sense that streets are full of shouting and celebrating, right? That headlines would run across the country like the one that ran in the New York Daily Times? It’s obvious that the removal of wickedness leads to rejoicing. But doesn’t this lead to something even more obvious?
For man to act in this way only reveals that we are, in fact, just man. If all I am is that chest-pumping American, then the reaction is understandable, but is that all I am?
Just 10 years ago, we watched in horror as the streets of another country were filled with rejoicers just like our streets are now. They waved different flags, and spoke a different language, but what they rejoiced over was the death of nearly 3,000 people on our soil. Then, we saw the scene as despicable. Is it somehow more honorable today because the flag is American?
Now, as soon as I typed the word “American,” I could hear the comments flying: “Oh, so you’re sympathetic to the enemy?” “You think he should have lived??!” “What kind of American are you?”
I’m an American who loves this country more than any other country in the world and who appreciates the sacrifice that our men and women make every day to keep our borders secure. I’m an American who wants people who are oppressed by evil rulers in other countries to be able to live in the same kind of freedom I enjoy. I’m also an American who is a follower of Christ, and that begs the question of when my faith should trump my patriotism.
Surely by now we all know that God is neither Republican nor Democrat. But do we also understand that He isn’t American? He isn’t on our side against the rest of the world, and apparently, He isn’t out in the streets dancing about over the death of Bin Laden.
Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:11)
God is on the side of righteousness, and the only time the unrighteous can become righteous is while they are, in fact, still breathing and can use that breath to call on the name of Christ. Death ends that possibility, and removes all pleasure from the end of any life in God’s eyes. In fact, the only time that death is seen in anything close to a positive light by God is when the righteous die, because then death is the entrance into eternity with Him as opposed to apart from Him.
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. (Psalm 116:15)
There are times that our faith runs counter to our culture, and this, I feel, is one of those times. Not celebrating the death of our country’s greatest enemy could definitely cause those around us to wonder where our loyalties lie, and on this I think it is imperative that we make our position absolutely clear: we stand on the side of those who are trying to follow the words that Jesus spoke to His disciples. They are hard words, unnatural words, but His words nonetheless:
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 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. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
Apparently, rejoicing over the death of our enemy makes us like everyone else around us. By not praying for our enemies, we find ourselves unable to see the world around us – and the evil present in it – with eternal eyes. We get swept up in the crowd thirsty for blood and lose the distinguishing mark of His blood that redeemed us. We lose the ability to see anything from a perspective any higher than human vengeance, and thus cannot fathom the possibility that vengeance belongs only to God (Romans 12:19).
Did people rejoice in the Bible over the death of evil men and women? Yes. The deaths of Ahab, Jezebel and Goliath led to cheers. Heck, when the entire Egyptian army got swept away in the Red Sea, Miriam wrote a freaking praise song about it. But those were part of the old covenant when God judged wickedness on the earth through His people. We live in a time when He has judged wickedness on the earth through His Son, and that should give us pause to consider the redeem-ability of man.
Osama Bin Laden. Hitler. The very names seem synonymous with evil and make us feel justified in our celebration of their demise. But what about another name?
Surely in his day he was as much an instrument of evil against the good in the world as the 2 other names mentioned. He was responsible for the deaths of numerous early Christians, and unmoved by remorse over it. If he could have had his way, no follower of Christ would have outlived him. But he couldn’t have his way, because as evil as he may have been, he was redeemable, and in the end was a better man, as Paul, than anyone would have ever dared to believe possible.
It is not something that we can do naturally. Human nature loves the good and hates the evil. It repays evil with evil. But redeemed nature sees everything with eternal eyes, and prays for the persecutor. Ultimately, Osama Bin Laden had a choice to make regarding his Creator, and he made it. Christians around the world are well aware of that, and our response now reveals whether or not we ever even prayed for him as he made it.
This – the unnatural prayer prayed in supernatural strength for those who persecute us – is what allows us to celebrate the removal of wickedness in this world while still grieving the judgement of the wicked in the next.