bruce_woodYou have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.   (Matthew 5:43-48   NIV)

               Last night I was watching television with my wife when my brother called. It was nearly eleven o’clock at night and I immediately began to worry something was wrong (what family member wouldn’t?). Instead, my brother hurriedly told me to turn my television to the news (I was watching a DVR’ed t.v. show) and I switched expecting to see some horrible tragedy had occurred. Instead, what I saw was the jubilant faces of young Americans dancing in the streets waving American flags with the headline taking up half the screen: “OSAMA BIN LADEN IS DEAD.”

               At first I surfed the various news networks (I had become a cable news junkie the day of Sept. 11, 2001 in my freshman year at Rutgers) looking for details and finally settled to watch the Presidential announcement. I watched with rapt attention until my wife looked over at me and lovingly said, “it’s almost midnight, can we watch the end of our show?” I acquiesced.

               Later, I reflected on the pictures I had seen after the announcement. All throughout today I have struggled with my feelings about the out-and-out celebrations I have seen swirling around this country in the wake of Bin Laden’s death. Certainly this was a man who deserved to have justice fall heavily upon him, and certainly it seems the strike team that raided his compound gave him the option to face that justice. He chose to try to kill them and they had no choice but to defend themselves. If this were a criminal in the streets today we would say to the officers that they were justified in defending themselves and we would think it a shame that someone had to die regardless of their crime.

               But today this is not so. Today there are celebrations, shows of patriotism, kissing and hugging and jumping in lakes. I struggle, especially as a Christian, with the idea of celebrating the death of any person – even those whose crimes are beyond the pale. I began this article with a word of Scripture from the New Testament. Jesus was instructing His followers on the proper attitude toward those who stand against us. Not just those who ideologically disagree with us, but those who try to wholesale slaughter us.

               Today, I reflect on this scripture anew. Osama bin Laden was man who twisted the Islamic religion to justify murder for his own ideological gains. He was ruthless and he was likely filled with a great deal of hate. But he was a human being. A criminal, a psychopath, a heartless killer who has damaged or destroyed the lives of millions, but just a man nonetheless. He was not a demon. He was not a supernatural force. He was human. And he showed us what humankind can achieve when it fills its heart with hate.

               But I do not rejoice in the death of this man. I do not revel in the images of those who do. A criminal was brought to justice, and for this I give thanks that he did not get away with the murders he committed. He died by his sword, fully intent on making his last breaths and act of murder yet again. For the sake of Justice I give thanks today. But I do not revel. In fact, today I soberly pray for those for whom his death will not bring back their loved ones. I pray for those whose scars were torn open again and with tears in their souls were told that justice had finally prevailed. I do not mourn for the death of Osama bin Laden, but I do mourn for us if we cannot rise above the cycle of violence that threatens us every day.

               Bin Laden taught us this much: hate will only beget more hate. I am sure he loved as well. He loved his family, his brothers-in-arms and even his man-made twisted view of god. And Jesus speaks to this as well. If we love only those whom we choose are worthy of that love, we announce to everyone else that they are unworthy of being loved. This was the life bin Laden chose. I choose love. Jesus’ whole ministry was a ministry of love. At every corner he denounced hate – hate for family, friends, and even enemies. What profit was there in hate over love? None. And there is still absolutely none.

               Today, let’s not revel in this man’s death. Let’s not dance in the streets and shout from the rooftops. Instead, let’s hold a widow, a parent and an orphan and sooth away their tears as they call to mind today the one they lost at this man’s hands. Let us wipe away their tears and tell them that finally justice has been done. And let’s not say it as if it is supposed to instantly heal their wounds, because this criminal’s death will do no such thing.

               And when we have finished with that (or even now when the streets become hollow and the celebrations are merely echoes) let us fall upon our knees every night and pray for those who hate us. Let us pray for those who wish death upon us. Let us pray that love will conquer hate. That strength (love) will overcome weakness (hate) and let us especially pray that we ourselves will become the people who rejoice only in justice prevailing and injustice and oppression’s defeat. Then tomorrow, let us get up and be the better people. Let us be the people who reach out in love, who sacrifice for peace and who do not revel in the death of others but work to prevent even one more life being wasted for the cause of hate.

Let’s turn our hearts today…