What is the proper response to Bin Laden’s death?

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.


Filed under Abuse, Christianity, news, News and politics, sin

21 responses to “What is the proper response to Bin Laden’s death?

  1. Without wanting to become the next man targeted by US Special Forces it is surely worth considering why we’ve had to engage in the hunt for Bin Laden. He was not alone and has not gone.

    At times like this I believe we need to all reflect on what may be the root cause of the strife that is much broader than one man and infects the minds of the population of even our allies.

  2. brooke

    This thought is exactly what penetrated my head last night as I watched after a busy late night at work….I was glad that he was out of power, althought people like BinLaden dont work alone…we should be careful and not let our guard down , I was glad that there was some closure for those who lost loved oned, and I am only supposing that those affected feel that way as well; however I was genuinally uncomfortable with the cheering in the street, the celebrating and the crowds…it just didnt seem right; and that is completely personal. I wish there were more of a respect for the human life;even if sinful….just like me. No I didnt cause mass murder but how much different are we when we celebrate that..?, it is sad that we resort to forms such as this to control the evil in the world…..and maybe we need to be extensions of God hands and arms….tough topic to not judge others reactions…

    If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[a] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
    Romans 12:18-20

  3. Pingback: the death of Osama bin Laden: a collection of Christian reactions | preacher smith

  4. D. Stevenson

    Two responses – that I’ll separate into 2 posts.

    One – today’s blog over at the gospel coalition is relevant

  5. D. Stevenson

    TWO – and addressed to another thought in Phil’s post – that of not turning a blind eye to injustices in our communities.

    I am in the middle of reading “Good News about Injustice” by Gary Haugen. Some of the gross injustices referenced in the book I already knew about, not all. The crimes of man against man are horrific. We want to do something and think what can I do?

    I mused that it is similar to what happens in many churches. The missionary comes to speak and people think, I want to be a missionary and go tell about Jesus to the heathen on the foreign field, forgetting that they haven’t even told their neighbor. Does their neighbor not count?

    I think it is the same about injustice. We look out at the horrific beyond our borders and ignore injustice all around us. Is the burden on the person next to me inconsequential because it isn’t “as bad” as the 5-year-old little girl slave laborer in India? There are 5 year old little girls in this country whose spirits are being broken daily by harsh treatment from their parents. There are those unable to access needed services because they don’t have the mental capabilities to wade through the bureaucracy. Can I speak up in defense of the person being verbally attacked? Isn’t that also injustice? These people exist even in my comfortable little community. What can I do? What do I do?

  6. So, when I first read about the story of OBL being killed, I was immediately struck by the physical manifestations of my feelings all over my body. My heart sank. My skin broke out in goosebumps from head to toe (that hasn’t happened in a long time), and I felt utterly stuck. Really stuck. The next thing that was in my face at the same moment that I read about the death was the gloating, cheering, rejoicing…all of the smug indifference or celebration about this person’s demise. The physical feeling of “pit in the stomach”/”almost wanted to burst into tears” came over me. This all happened in a matter of about 10 seconds. The death of OBL is just another death in my book…like that of Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Rock Hudson, John Lennon, Madeline Murray O’Hare, Ronald Reagan, Michael Jackson, etc….these people all died. They died, and their legacy lives on after them. I did not rejoice in any of these people’s deaths. I only thought about one thing—were they avowed followers of Christ…we they true believers? I know for a fact that OBL was not a Christian, and I know for a fact that his soul is lost. That, to me, is the most tragic part of this matter. I posit that Christ would want us not to delight in the death, but continue to spread his word and his love so that others can know of God’s grace and Jesus’ great sacrifice for our sins. I appreciated the insight in this post. I am probably just going to look to #5 for myself in this situation.
    God’s blessings to you!

  7. i feel kinda sorry for him. i mean he obviously wasn’t a christian, and we can’t truly comprehend how horrible hell is.

  8. Amy

    Thank goodness someone who’s an intelligent Christian agrees with me, then again, you always were my favorite professor. 🙂 And I wonder if my thoughts on justice were tempered by your teaching, but still…. glad we see eye to eye on this, Phil. 🙂

  9. Amy

    BTW, whenever I talk about you, I call you Dr. Phil because it amuses me and people are like, “Dr. Phil is a counseling prof?” I respond, “Yes, yes, he is!” *wink*

    • D. Stevenson

      Oh please don’t do that to Phil!
      to be associated with a man who has questionable ethics at best – and I’m being nice.

      • I used to be able to gloat, “well, at least I have hair even if not his money.” That isn’t going to be true for too much longer given my genes.

        All in fun.

      • Amy

        It’s funny because Michelle used to talk about Oprah all the time. 🙂

  10. I so agree with you! I have been reading many heated discussions about his death. I appreciate the way you summarize everything. True, we shouldn’t gloat over his death, but there is a certain sense of “joy” in this.

  11. Armando D'Angelo

    I too have been listening to all the responses and have felt a discomfort at the expressions of glee over this man’s death. I will add one more emotion to your list and that is mourning. Not mourning for a man who so defiled Gods creation as to murder thousands of innocent people but mourning for ourselves as a family.
    It is something to be mourned when one of us goes so far afield that the only recourse is death. We are all diminished when one of our numbers engages in so much despicable evil that the rest of us can do nothing else but turn him over to the ultimate judge for sentencing. We are instructed by the great lengths our father in heaven went to that none might be lost. Was it a righteous act? Probably but we may never know for sure. Where a great many innocent people probably spared maiming and death? Probably. Will someone take his place? Definitely. Our struggle is not against Bin Laden per say but rather against the corruption of a perfect creation that perpetuates our relational dysfunctions and magnifies them to the point where this sort of thing is a necessity. I mourn for us as brothers and sisters and I am certain that a loving, just God will take no pleasure in executing righteous judgment on one of his children.

  12. I was sharing with a friend that I didn’t feel the same celebratory spirit I’ve been witnessing. I felt sober as I heard the news. In Ezekiel 33:11 GOD says that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Thanks for putting this out there. For a minute I thought I was missing something.

  13. Pingback: Why Christians Can “Celebrate” Osama’s Death « Backseat Writer

  14. Scott Knapp

    “Every man of Judah and Jerusalem returned with Jehoshaphat at their head, returning to Jerusalem with joy, for the Lord had made them to rejoice over their enemies. They came to Jerusalem with harps, lyres and trumpets to the house of the Lord. And the dread of God was on all the kingdoms of the lands when they heard that the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel.”
    2 Chronicles 20:27-29

    We can’t say that God has never given a nation permission to exult over the defeat and annihilation of an enemy. For the interpersonal purpose of evangelism of individuals, I think it is appropriate for us (as individuals) to grieve over bin Laden’s death, as a lost opportunity for him to join us for eternity in Heaven. I think it is not necessarily appropriate, however, to put this same expectation upon a nation when a particularly destructive national enemy has been vanquished. I’ve long been of the opinion that there are biblical principles of interpersonal interaction (“turn the other cheek” or “pray for those who persecute you”) that are not necessarily imposed upon a civic entity (and example would be the right of the state to impose the death penalty for a crime against society, such as murder, in spite of the personal forgiveness of the family of the one murdered). We’re also conditioned to believe that we can feel only one affective response at a time to an event; instead, let’s both grieve bin Laden’s eternal, personal loss as individuals, while simultaneously vigorously rejoicing that our nation has righteously destroyed a force for evil in the world.

  15. Jess

    I came across this short post, which I think offers an interesting perspective:

  16. Ben Walter

    I’m not sure I get the joy and satisfaction part. Joy and satisfaction over what? That bin Laden is dead? That he will no longer be able to plan any more attacks?

    I get the other emotions you posted, but I’m not so sure about the joy and satisfaction – particularly the joy. I can feel no joy over the death of anyone – at least I haven’t yet.

    Shouldn’t we be sad that a life was wasted in the pursuit of death and violence? I understand that we would be relieved that we don’t have to worry about him anymore, but I do not believe that joy is an appropriate Christian response to this event. Not so sure about satisfaction either. Maybe I’m not grasping exactly what you mean though.

    • Ben, thanks for your comments and questions. Human emotions are complex. Joy does not equal happiness even though we may sometimes feel both. Satisfaction doesn’t necessarily mean content. By joy I meant that God is righting wrongs in the world…and is just. This should give us Gospel joy. But that joy is tempered with great sadness. It is not a joy that dances in the streets. Satisfaction is a similar emotion. When something is completed, or righted or finished. We can feel some level of satisfaction. Human dealt justice will never bring the joy or satisfaction that will be experienced in heaven. But it is a taste. But you are also right, none of these emotions are experienced in isolation from others and we are left with great sadness and longing for heaven.

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