Could the Death of an Arch Nemesis Reveal a Nation’s Lack of Purpose?

I don’t watch much television, and I’m embarrassed to say how early I usually go to bed, so I didn’t find out about the death of Osama bin Laden until early Monday morning. I’ll be honest: my first thought was…

What took so long? I guess I’m used to the movies, where bad guys can’t hide anywhere without being found. Didn’t you watch the movie “Heat”?

Then, when I saw everyone rejoicing over the news of a dead man, I heard the following words and paused:

“I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from wicked ways so they may live” Ezekiel 33:11

But the dude was evil, right?

“Moral character makes for smooth traveling; an evil life is a hard life.” Proverbs 11:5

“Good people celebrate when justice triumphs, but for the workers of evil it’s a bad day.” Proverbs 21:15

I don’t know. It seems there’s a scripture verse to support any feelings you have on the matter. If you don’t celebrate, your patriotism is questioned. If you celebrate, in some people’s eyes your morality grows a shadow.

Then, a response from Pastor Michael Slaughter:

“I am glad that Osama bin Ladin’s personal voice for the mandate of hate has been silenced but I am also reminded of the biblical mandate for our attitude of response:”Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice” (Proverbs 24:17)” Thinking of those families who lost people as a result of this man’s hate today (troops and 9/11 victims).

* * * * *

King David had an arch rival. His name was Saul. Some will claim that Saul was God’s anointed and you can’t compare him to Osama bin Laden, but Saul had a nasty  track record. He tried to kill David numerous times and the Bible points out that the Spirit of God departed from Saul. In a fit of rage, Saul instructed someone to kill 83 priests of God in cold blood.

Sounds like Saul went over to the dark side.

Yet multiple times, when given the chance, David turned down the opportunity to kill this man. Why?

I think it’s because David knew he would be king. He trusted the promise that God had made to him and knew his purpose. The timing of vengeance was not important to him, nor did he believe it was his to control, even when given the opportunity.

On Monday I wondered: was all of our celebrating over the death of one man just a sign that as a nation (and unlike David) we have lost our identity? If we had a strong sense of national purpose, wouldn’t this just be one blip on the screen as we moved forward in other worthy pursuits?

Could it be that we are looking for purpose, so we grasp at any victory, even the destruction of an old man living in a self-imposed prison suffering along on dialysis?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I know one thing – it’s improbable that any of us know exactly what God thinks about the death of Osama bin Laden. Which is why this week has taken on a somber tone for me, as I remember those whose lives have been so terribly affected by this man, now dead, and I seek after God to better know His purposes here on earth.

What was your take?

17 Replies to “Could the Death of an Arch Nemesis Reveal a Nation’s Lack of Purpose?”

  1. First off, your comment about the dark side reminds me it’s Intergalactic Star Wars Day.
    Second, it would be easier for me to just post a link to my site than repeat it all here.
    To sum it up, I don’t really know what to think. It’s a whole lot to process really. We had a conversation in seminary yesterday about it with responses ranging from “love our enemies” to “bin Laden needed to die.” It’s really hard when even those who will one day lead the church don’t agree on what we should have done or what we need to do next.

  2. Thank you for your post Shawn, seems the only sensible post across the board right now. There are so many questions, and although everyone feels like they have the answers, I don’t think that is the case. I read what the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi said and have been thinking about it a lot today:

    “Osama bin Laden, as we all know, had the very grave responsibility of spreading division and hatred amongst the people, causing the death of countless of people, and of instrumentalizing religion for this end,” he said. “In front of the death of man, a Christian never rejoices but rather reflects on the grave responsibility of each one in front of God and men, and hopes and commits himself so that every moment not be an occasion for hatred to grow but for peace.”

  3. Perhaps some of it is accounted for simply by the human grasping after “closure” — whatever that means — and the magical thinking that bin Laden’s death means increased safety, when in fact, quite the opposite may be true.

    1. That’s true, Gwyn. I agree with your “closure” statement. I read an op-ed on CNN by one of the parents who lost a son in 9/11: he said this event didn’t bring him any closure. I wonder if “outsiders” get more closure from this event than those who lost loved ones. I don’t know.

  4. I first heard that Osama bin Laden had been killed right before going to bed while on a church trip. That night and the next morning people had a rather somber tone about it, and worried over what kind of retaliation there would be. It wasn’t until I got home Monday that I really saw or heard anything about people celebrating, but I really couldn’t see it as reason to celebrate. The way I see it killing one “bad guy” just leaves room for another to come to the surface. If you want to create real change you have to change the way people think, which is far more difficult than pulling out a gun.

  5. When I think about Bin Ladin my mind immediately says, “What a wasted life.” Here was a man who was a great leader even though his heart was evil. What would have happened if he was a Christ follower? We will never know. I think a good question to ask is how can I show love to the evil around me? I have never forgotten something Keith Green said a few weeks before he died, “The world isn’t being won for Christ. Why? Because we are not doing it.” What would have happened if someone led Bin Ladin to the foot of the cross? This is just a reminder to me that our actions and words can change the course of history. We have an enormous resposiblity.

  6. 9/11 happened my freshman year in college, and I and many of my peers were deeply, deeply affected by it, holding that event as a demarcation in our lives. We separate our memories into ‘before 9/11’ and ‘after 9/11’ instead of before/after college, before/after high school, before/after I got married. That said, what I noticed most about the (admittedly little) news coverage that I saw of the street celebrations is that the people doing most of the crazy celebrating are people my age – mid/late 20s. The Cold War is something we learned about in history class; communists are odd but not seen as a threat; and, sadly, we’ve been at war in the middle east (on and off) for half of our lives. Having had very little experience in this kind of political/military turning point (I was 6 when the Berlin wall fell; before 9/11, I might have said that the greatest international event I’d witnessed was Diana’s death), I don’t know if celebrating the death of a ‘national enemy’ is typical, or kind of a new thing. But I do know my particular set of peers, and I know that we are generally pretty immature and slow to self-restraint and introspection. We aren’t that far away from college, where we overturn cars, throw paint and burn benches when our teams win big games; bin Laden is the greatest and most hated ‘rival’ we’ve ever faced. I don’t like the way we’ve celebrated, but on some level I do ‘get’ it.

  7. I have felt saddened by the thought that the death of a person was determined to be the best thing for the greater good. I’m saddened by so many Christians that I’ve seen acting personally vindicated by bin Laden’s death. It is sad because even if you believe that Christ only died for the elect, He loves the world and has commanded us to do the same – even blessing our enemies. A large part of me does believe this is the best thing, but that we shouldn’t be happy that a child of God lost his way.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts on this Josh. I’ll meet you over at Wilbur’s and we can talk about it some more…

  8. Shawn,

    I have been struggling with the same emotions. There seems to be Scripture to back up either view. I think of Jonah and how he had a negative attitude towards God’s mercy and compassion on Ninevah and God kept asking him why he was angry. Jonah basically replied because they were a wicked nation. But then I look at other scriptures (like the ones you mentioned) when wicked people were taken down and justice was served. It’s such a difficult situation. It’s this battle of our self-centeredness wanting justice and our moral conscience trying to figure out if this is really what God wanted.

  9. This perfectly describes my mixed feelings Sunday night, and my frustration with people throwing Bible verses around to back up and justify whatever it was they were feeling. Sometimes, for that very reason, I try to be quiet and let God speak to my heart rather than turning to the Bible to seek his word. I don’t know if that’s the best approach, but it feels right to be at the moment.

    But on to your main point, I absolutely think you’re on to something about our national identity and sense of purpose. When your eyes are on the prize and you’re inspired by something bigger than lies before you, there’s little need to linger over the past and work it over again and again, whether in anger or gloating or frustration. I’ve certainly seen that in my own life, so it’s interesting to think about the same thing in national terms.

    1. I’m definitely into the point you make about sometimes taking the more spiritual approach as opposed to the rational/Biblical approach. What? You mean we can learn about God outside of the BIBLE?!?!

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