May 1st, 2011 – Life Wins
It was May 1st, 2011 at 10:50 pm.
I was on my way back from Durham, having just gotten off the phone with my dad, when Allison called me. “Did you hear the news?” she asked. “No.” “Osama bin Laden is dead. It’s all over twitter and the President is going to make an announcement.”
I have to admit, my first response was to…smile.
I think I even said something like, “that’s great!”
Because, you see, I remember sitting in 2nd period band when a school administrator came in and told us that our nation was under attack and that two planes had hit the World Trade Center in New York. I remember watching the Today Show, and I remember watching people jump to their death from the buildings. I remember watching both buildings fall, live, on television.
And I remember thinking, “who would do that?”
Before 9/11, I didn’t know anything about Osama bin Laden. I didn’t know a thing about al Qaeda. But later that week, al Qaeda became the center of all our lives.
And I will admit that when I watch that clip of President Bush standing on that rubble saying, “I can hear you! And the people who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us soon!” I get goosebumps every time.
Every single time.
Because to me, a man who sent in OTHER people to kill 3,000 innocent Americans ought to be “brought to justice.”
I once watched an episode of Oprah where she was talking about Timothy McVeigh. I remember the story going that after he dropped that van off in the basement, he ran from the building. He got down the block before the explosion. When it finally hit, he kept running. After it was over, he looked behind him and I’m almost positive that his quote was, “Damn, I didn’t get all of it.”
When I heard that Timothy McVeigh was arrested and sentenced to death, I smiled inside. Evil had been “brought to justice.”
You can call me an evil person. You can call me unChristian. You can call me a hypocrite. But, I’d rather refer to myself as “honest.”
These people did horrible things to our world. And now they can’t anymore. That gives me some sense of joy.
But immediately, I started questioning whether this sense of joy was proper or not. Joy is not true joy unless it comes from the right source. When I got home, I looked at the news and the first thing I saw was people flooding the White House with American flags wrapped around their backs screaming “USA! USA! USA!” I immediately had a flashback to all of those videos I’ve seen of Middle Easterners burning our flag.
I got on Facebook (which took awhile, I had deactivated it until finals were over) and all of a sudden, I saw thinks like “F&$@ you Osama!” and “WE GOT HIM!” and “Proud to be an American!” and “Rot in Hell!”
But, of course, I’m a Divinity student, so I also had interspersed within the news feed things like “Love your Enemies” and “Why do we celebrate the death of a human?”
And I was back to being torn. Do I act as an American? Do I celebrate one more embodiment of evil finally being gone? Do I mourn that my fellow countrymen are celebrating in the death of someone? Do I remember Jesus’ line about a giving him the other cheek? Do I try to reconcile some of the emotions I am feeling with the almost unbelievable message of the Gospel?
See, we were confused about the details at first. We didn’t know exactly if the mission was to kill or to capture (although most signs point to kill). We didn’t know that night if Osama had shot back (although we know now that he was unarmed). We didn’t know how all of it had gone down (although we know more almost every second now).
Sam Wells, of Duke Chapel, raised the point that Osama wasn’t given a fair trial before his death. And my first thought is that I don’t remember those on 9/11 getting a fair trial before their death. In fact, Osama seems to have been unarmed and unaware of what was going on when they shot him. In that sense, he has something in common with the people he killed on 9/11.
But I return to Jesus’ command not only to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, but also to the idea of fighting this concept of “an eye for an eye.” To Jesus, I think the concept of returning a bad deed with a bad deed seemed stupid…because it did nothing but return violence with more violence (though Jewish law really seemed to have laid it out as a fair and balanced system). In Jesus’ mind, I am confident, violence returning violence only escalates.
When I said as a child, “Isn’t it wrong to kill someone by the death penalty?” I remember being asked, “Well, if someone takes someone else’s life, do they deserve to keep theirs?”
And, daily, I struggle with this question.
How is justice defined? Do Americans get to decide what is just? Is justice the same thing as fairness? Does the fact that “life’s not fair” play into this? Is governmental justice different than vigilante justice?
And I continue to return to one fundamental concept. For Christians, none of us deserve to keep our lives. But because of the death and resurrection, God has given us the gift of eternal life, one that goes beyond the one that we currently inhabit. And, if we learn anything from the resurrection, it is that life defeats death…in each and every sense. It’s not just Jesus’ death that was defeated. Death…has been defeated.
Because of that, I choose not to condemn the US for killing bin Laden. I choose not to preach to my fellow Americans who are simply acting according to their emotions. I also choose not to celebrate a murder.
Instead, I choose to focus on life eternal. I choose to focus on salvation. I choose to focus on resurrection, because I know that the way that we sometimes view life and death here on earth is wrong.
If resurrection lives in us, which I believe that it does, then we celebrate the new life that God has given our country and world because an active doer of harm is gone. We also celebrate those who were under his leadership who didn’t know what life really was, and now do. We celebrate the lives of the marginalized that are now able to think and act for themselves because there isn’t a ruler over them who has extremist views and glorifies violence.
Sam Wells said we shouldn’t celebrate. If we define “celebration” in the same sense that those who flooded the White House gates defined it, then I agree. But if we define celebration as taking comfort and joy in some form of new life here on earth, then I think the resurrection still lives within us and with that, the Word of God is still present.
Murder is wrong.
Life is good.
What a world we live in.