When I heard the news that Osama bin Laden was dead, my immediate reaction was, "Good. Now our folks can come home!"
My response puzzled me a bit. Was I happy that bin Laden was dead, or happy that maybe we could wind up the never-ending war in Afghanistan and our troops could come home? Surely I wasn't happy that a human being - even someone like bin Laden - had died.
As I watched the morning news, the video of people celebrating in the streets disturbed me. I know that we are relieved that this person who had caused the death of so many people all over the world was gone. We are glad that he will no longer be sponsoring campaigns of hate. People who lost loved ones in 9/11 understandably have a sense of justice service, and closure. But somehow active celebration still seemed inappropriate. I thought about all the video aired showing terrorists and their sympathizers celebrating after successful attacks - and how outraged we feel. I thought about all the bad press the US gets in the Arab world (remember, terrorists and their sympathizers are only a small part of the Arab world), and wondered how our celebration would be received.
My morning check-in with my friends via facebook showed a variety of responses, ranging from those overtly rejoicing that bin Laden was dead to Proverb's advice: "Do not rejoice when your enemies fall (24:17)."
The thing is, we want to rejoice. A force on the side of evil is no longer in this world. Someone who commanded an attack on us - on American soil - will not longer be able to mastermind such attacks. Never mind that there are plenty of people out there to take his place. In the struggle of good and evil, evil always has someone waiting in the wings. I remember one of the scariest things I ever read in a Stephen King book (I don't remember which one) was at the end, when the hero triumphed, the evil simply slunk away, moving on to bring terror to a new locale. The talking heads are trying to process just what bin Laden's death means on the war on terror. It seems that it won't make much difference from a tactical point of view - our pursuit of him had limited his ability to launch terror attacks. The consensus is that this will have more of a psychological and symbolic effect. Still, this feels like evil has taken a serious blow today.
And I want to rejoice - one of the bogeymen has been vanquished. The Psalmist has no problem calling for the (sometimes blood and gruesome) defeat of his enemies, and openly rejoices in their destruction. But then there's Jesus, calling us to love our enemies, to pray for them. As a Christian who firmly believes every human being is made in God's image and is a loved child of God, I don't want to gloat over the death of another human being. But there's still a part of me that wants to rejoice with the Psalmist!
I'm having a hard time today knowing just how to respond. Most of the day, I have spent vacillating between joy at the destruction of an enemy and sorrow over the death of another human being. Perhaps that's just the way it's supposed to be. As humans, we live in paradox. Maybe recognizing the tension between joy and sorrow is part of knowing what it means to be human.
While reading today, I came across this prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
In this prayer, I found my answer. We stand today in the middle of hatred, injury, despair, doubt, sadness and darkness. We stand today in the middle of joy over defeat of enemies and the ironic hope that violence will actually bring peace. And the only sane thing to do is to cry out to God with our hopes and fears, and ask to be drawn in to the activity of the Good.