After bin Laden: Vigilance maintained & joy restrained

(CCU Faculty) On the Sunday night news coverage on the killing of Osama bin Laden, all the networks showed people gathering at Ground Zero, in Times Square and around the White House. Most of those people were in a celebratory mood: singing and chanting about the death of bin Laden. The event struck me as odd. In the few days since, two thoughts come to mind: first, some thoughts on the Christian attitude toward celebration of anyone’s death and second, the reality of what bin Laden’s death means and doesn’t mean.

Ezekiel 33:11 says “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’.”

According to this passage, God’s greatest rejoicing is not with the death of an evil person, but when the evil turn away from themselves and towards Him. God is a God of justice, however, and he does indeed delight in justice being served. All must agree that bin Laden’s end is indeed just. However, Ezekiel 33:11 creates a hierarchy as to God’s greatest joy. Wouldn’t God have found greater pleasure (and shouldn’t we all?) had bin Laden surrendered, repented and turned his life to the true and living God? This interpretation provides some context upon which we might temper our joy on this occasion.

With regards to what bin Laden’s death means to our country and the war on terrorism, I began by thinking of the famous scenes of celebration in Times Square following both V–E and V–J Days. Both days marked the end of, and ultimately, the formal surrendering by our enemies in the Second World War.

In contrast, our war with radical Islam is not over. The death of bin Laden is indeed a huge moral victory, but its impact on the war remains to be seen. In President Obama’s address to the nation on Sunday evening, announcing the successful military operation, he stated: “His death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad.”

These two points are in no way intended to denigrate the success of this mission, including the leadership of President Obama, the amazing performance of our intelligence community, and most importantly the Navy Seals who performed the mission. My joy, nonetheless, is restrained.

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