To Cheer or Not To Cheer: Emotions and the Death of bin Laden

celebration outside of White House on news of bin Laden's death

Can we really dictate what others should feel?  Do we even know what we feel ourselves?

In case you hadn't heard, Osama bin Laden is, like Old Marley, dead as a doornail.  Probably Donald Trump wants to see his long-form death certificate to believe it, but it's true.  The world's most-wanted terrorist is no more, and the airwaves have been filled with responses.

Myself, I heard the news first in Trade Chat while playing World of Warcraft late Sunday night.  I turned on the television and was up half the night watching as crowds rushed to the White House and then to Ground Zero to wave flags, to celebrate, to remember, to sing the National Anthem, to laugh, and to cry. 

About 3 am I flipped through my Twitter feed and began to see the debate about whether a celebration of a death was appropriate.  Many pastors quoted Bible verses about not gloating over victories and how God is not pleased with death--even the death of the wicked.  Others reacted harshly to what was perceived as judgment on their emotions, and the conflict about what we should or should not feel continued on Facebook the next day.

"Can anyone really dictate that?" I wondered.  For that matter, do we ever really know all the complexities of what we feel?  As I watched the crowds gather and absorbed the news into the wee hours of Monday morning, tears rolled down my cheeks; but each tear was a prism of emotion.

On the one hand, I felt joy at seeing such an expression of unity in our divided country and pride that the President I love made a gutsy move and got it right.  But I felt uncomfortable that we have what amount to assassination squads, supported with my tax dollars.  Then again, I was thankful that he was killed and that we weren't subjected to the circus of his detainment, interrogation, and trial.  Probably bin Laden was, too.

I was incredibly sad at the thought that someone who was once an innocent baby, born into the world with great potential before him, became the twisted man that was Osama bin Laden.  A God-given life was abused and mis-used for ungodly ends and the name of God tarnished in the process.  That is tragedy.  But I was happy for those who have suffered from his evil that there was now some closure and some measure of justice served.  And, yes, I was smugly partisan in my happiness that Obama did what Bush could not, and that he achieved with great aplomb what he was derided for saying he would do as a candidate.

My prism of tears included the memories of 9/11/2001 and the insanity of being the pastor of a church in the days and weeks that followed.  I remembered the flood of people coming in to the church at all hours to pray and the woman who was consumed by guilt because as a travel agent she had booked people on Flight 11 out of Boston.  I remembered one of our church leaders coming into my office late that Thursday night and finding me curled in a ball on my office couch, sobbing from the grief and the strain.  And I was relieved beyond measure that the man who caused all that was dead.

And those are just the emotions I can identify.  Each of us brings our own set of memories, experiences, theology, and personality to the news and I can't say that any acknowledgement of our feelings is out of place.  If King David can wish for the children of his enemies to be dashed against rocks and get that included in the Bible, who are we to say that God cannot graciously absorb our anger as well as our joy.

Monday morning the world felt a little less evil to me and a little more light seemed to shine.  The God I know is, in a way I can't comprehend, both merciful and just.  I am very glad that the judgment of Osama bin Laden is in God's hands and not mine.  Whatever true justice looks like for a man who did so much evil could never have been found in any court on this earth.  And only God can see if there is any light left in his soul for which mercy might be appropriate.  I am happy to let people feel what they feel and leave the rest in God's capable hands.  I don't know if there will be any rest for bin Laden's soul, but I do know there is now a bit more rest in mine.


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