I was stunned to pick up the newspaper one week ago today to discover that Osama bin Laden had been killed. The most monstrous face of terrorism of my time was no more. The cynical tyrant, distorter of Islam, and disseminater of hatred was no longer free to plot the demise of innocents.
As I read the countless articles highlighting the top-secret mission that led to OBL’s death, I found myself somber and wondering aloud, “How am I to process this?”
When I read a compelling article, my practice is to scour a dozen reputable websites in an effort to get a more well-rounded, global perspective. What I discovered last Monday left me undone and my question deepened.
The new question: “As a citizen of the Kingdom of God and of the Contemporary Empire, how am I to process the death of Osama bin Laden?”
The consensus answer that resounded throughout the Empire was “celebration”. By the 9th inning of an east coast MLB game, the sold out crowd was unified in chants of “U.S.A!” News cameras captured the jubilation of college students in front of the White House and in the streets of their college cities celebrating the death and demise of the one who had been the face of “the enemy” for more than half of their lives.
As I watched the celebration ensue, I was reminded of September 11, 12, & 13, 2001 when I watched people on the other side of the world celebrating the atrocities of 9/11, burning effigies of people that looked like me, and, with jubilation, chanting the names of their countries. Ten years ago, as I watched that unfold, I became fueled not with a desire for justice…but with a desire for revenge.
An image came to mind…an image of a divided world sitting on opposing sides of a stadium looking at each other. Periodically, a team on the playing field would score and their fans would cheer while the opposing team dropped their heads and the opposing fans sat by stoically, awaiting their chance for celebratory retaliation.
I wonder…do we live in a world much like this image? Do we live in a world where we take turns cheering each other’s demise?
I wonder…will the cheering stop only when there’s no one left to cheer?
“As a citizen of the Kingdom of God and of the Contemporary Empire, how am I to process the death of Osama bin Laden?”
The Scriptures have been my guide this week as I’ve considered the question. I’ve read a number of Old Testament passages where God warns against our celebrating the fall of the enemy. I’ve read a number of Old Testament passages where God seems to initiate the demise of the enemy. This tension requires other blog posts and doesn’t necessarily help with the question at hand.
Then I re-read Matthew 5:38-42 where Jesus says, “When power is abused and you’re the victim, don’t get even. Get creative in love.” These words of Jesus, whose death and demise was celebrated by other Empires, gave credence to my misgivings with our Imperial celebration.
While “celebration” is a way of processing bin Laden’s death, it’s probably not the ideal way for those of us with bi-citizenship.
If not celebration, then what?
As I pondered the question further, I heard the word “justice” emerge and re-emerge as the Imperial definition of bin Laden’s death.
The word “justice” paired with images of dancing college students holding signs with a bullet-ridden Osama bin Ladan raised yet another question for me:
Are our definitions of justice and revenge synonymous?
In the Kingdom of God, justice is the word that describes the moment when something wrong is made right…when something broken is made whole again. In light of that definition, can citizens of the Kingdom of God celebrate justice in the wake of bin Laden’s death?
Perhaps we who call ourselves citizens of the Kingdom need to be careful not to let the definitions of the Empire become the definitions of the Kingdom…
The question remains: “As a citizen of the Kingdom of God and of the Contemporary Empire, how am I to process the death of Osama bin Laden?”
Perhaps a better way than “celebration” is “relief”. The world can be relieved that a leader like bin Laden can no longer plot the demise of countless people. The world can be relieved that one more mass murderer has been stopped. But in our relief, let us be realistic that evil and suffering did not go away with the life of Osama bin Laden.
Evil and suffering remain…and will likely intensify…dancing in the streets has that effect on the other side of the stadium.
Is there another, better, more beautiful way forward?
The Jesus Way of Shalom. Reconciliation.
The Jesus Way of thinking carefully how we live as citizens of the Kingdom within an opposing Empire.
The Jesus Way of not letting Kingdom definitions become cross-pollinated with Imperial definitions.
The other, better, more beautiful way forward is the Jesus Way of getting creative in love. This will likely require you and I meeting in the middle of the field, learning each other’s name, embracing each other, apologizing on behalf of our “team”, and conspiring together for a Kingdom future.