Last night as the news media began telling of Bin Laden’s demise I began contemplating this question: What is a proper response to his death or, for that matter, the death of any oppressor, abuser or grossly unjust person? What is the right response?
Celebration? I heard one person say they were not celebrating death but were celebrating the end of a mass murderer. Glee? Wishing him well in hell? Praising justice or vengeance? Confidence? (immediately, news outlets were noting futures for markets and the US dollar were on the rise and oil futures were on the decline)
Or, should we merely mark it with somber reflection on all those who died at his hand or in the attempt to bring him to justice over the past ten years?
Is there a best response? Here are some words that come to mind:
- Relief. Something undone has been completed. At least one era has come to an end. One person seeking harm to another can do no more.
- Joy. Now this is a complex emotion. You will see at the bottom I do not think we ought to gloat. But joy is a proper emotion when right is defended and wrong is put away. Now, this emotion needs tempering because in this world, we can easily defend righteousness with wrong actions and motives. You damage me so I, in turn, take out my wrath on your family. So, our joy must be tempered by the knowledge that “they” are not always evil and “we” are not always good.
- Satisfaction. Any time justice is served, there is a level of satisfaction or vindication. Never fully experienced in this life, but in bits and pieces. (Of course there will be ongoing conversation about whether this was carried out in a just manner)
- Remembrance. Of those who died as victims to a tyrant (and their families), of those who died trying to bring a tyrant to justice.
- Reflection. Several kinds of reflections are quite appropriate. First, it is good and right to reflect on justice as a key character of God. Such reflection ought to cause us also to reflect on our own need for mercy in light of our own failings. We can reflect on how we want to handle future tyrants and how we speak about those who are quite different from us.
- Pray. We can pray for peace. We can pray for protection of those who still serve in harm’s way. Pray for an end to the training of malleable children into practices of war, whether a child suicide bomber in the Middle East or a child soldier in the Congo. We can pray that we will not turn a blind eye to injustices within our own communities. It is deadly to think that injustice is only in other countries. Remember, turning a blind eye to injustice in our midst is being complicit with the actual act of injustice.
While joy is a proper response to justice (Prov 21:15), I would think we ought not celebrate or gloat. Proverbs 24:17 tells us not to gloat when our enemy stumbles. But later in the same chapter it does tell us that there will be blessing for those who convict the guilty. Let God be the author of that and let us not attempt to bless ourselves.
If we rejoice, we ought to rejoice that God is in heaven and that our names are written in the book of life (Luke 10:20). Rejoice that all things here will pass away and one day there will be no more need for armies and warfare.