You may not know this. I was born in the USA. I still hold my US passport and defend my heritage although I have lived in Australia since I was 10.
This week I have felt very conflicted and it would not be hard to work out why. The news of the killing of Osama Bin Laden has been greeted with relief, praise and joy. He has been the figurehead of evil in the minds of many for the past decade. For those who have been connected in any way to the terrorist attacks in Nairobi (1998), Yemen (2000), New York (2001), Washington (2001), United Flight 93 (2001), Bali (2002 to 2005), Iraq (2003), Madrid (2004), London (2005) and elsewhere, his death in many ways will allow another stage of healing in the cycle of grief.
My dilemma springs from a confusion of emotion and thinking at the news of Bin Laden’s death. I feel emotionally relieved that the apparent mastermind of September 11 has been brought to account. I lived near New York, I had a friend who working in the buildings that were floored, I felt connected and appalled at the act of terror which was inflicted on so many in 2001. Those feelings were confirmed further when the Bali Bombings happened in 2002. I have a strong emotional reaction to these acts of terror. And so the news of Bin Laden’s death has stirred in me a reaction and I am relieved.
But his death is not something I want to celebrate. Watching the scenes of revelry at the news of his killing has filled me with uneasiness and concern. Should we celebrate the death of another – even an enemy?
In Ezekiel 18 the righteous man is contrasted with the violent and wicked man. Of the violent man it says:
“Suppose … “He eats at the mountain shrines. He defiles his neighbour’s wife. He oppresses the poor and needy. He commits robbery. He does not return what he took in pledge. He looks to the idols. He does detestable things. He lends at usury and takes excessive interest. Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he will surely be put to death and his blood will be on his own head. (Ek 18:10-13)
In Ezekiel the righteousness of the righteous man is credited to him whereas the wickedness of the wicked is charged against him.
The question asked is ‘Do I [God] take pleasure in the death of the wicked?’ The answer given is ‘not at all’ – there is no joy in the death of the wicked (Ez 18:23). Rather what pleases the Lord is when ‘a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right’ (Ez 18:27)
Bin Laden rejected Jesus and so his wickedness/sin would have been charged against him. Sadly, he was not the only one! We have all rejected Jesus and so our wickedness and sin will be charged against us.
This is where the gravity of death should hit home. There is only one death that can solve the world’s problems – and it is not Bin Laden’s!
Jesus died because sin prevailed.
Jesus died to make the unrighteous righteous.
Jesus died so that those who believe in him may be justified (Rom 3:21-26).
And although sin continues to plague our person and our world the greatest answer to the tragedy of sin is that Jesus has come to deal with it – in the first instance to forgive it and then when he returns to do away with it.
What we should celebrate is not that an evil man has died because he has offended the innocent, but that a righteous man has died because the guilty could not save themselves.