Last night I was actually headed to bed early (for once) when a CNN Breaking News email flashed into my inbox. It read simply: “Osama bin Laden is dead.”
So much for turning in early. My husband and I gathered around the TV to watch the breaking story unfold. It would be a couple of hours before I peeled myself away to go to sleep.
But my mind was troubled and my sleep was restless. I woke up this morning and remembered right away what happened last night.
The image that keeps gnawing at me even today is the swelling crowd gathered outside the White House, singing jubilantly and waving the American flag. And I’m not sure how to process this: Not only could I not identify with the throng, but I was actually taken aback by their response. I just wasn’t in a partying mood.
I don’t know that there’s a right or wrong way to process the news of bin Laden’s demise. I’m just trying to figure out how my reaction could be so different from the crowd’s. Here’s what I felt as I followed the story:
I felt relieved. The search is over, the battle is won.
I felt a sense of, “Yes, justice has been served.” A man who led others to commit acts of unspeakable evil has met the end he deserves.
I felt proud of the skill and bravery demonstrated by the Navy Seals who carried out the mission.
I felt compassion for those whose lives were directly affected by the events of 9/11, and I prayed that the news of bin Laden’s death would help bring a sense of closure to their grief.
But I was saddened at the same time.
About an hour after the news first broke, a friend of mine posted a Bible verse as his Facebook status. And for the first time I felt, “Yes, that’s it.” The verse is Ezekiel 33:11. It says:
“Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his ways and live.’”
I know I could probably find plenty of verses that describe the appropriateness of responding to the death of the wicked with joy. But I didn’t feel joy.
I felt sorrow. Sorrow for Osama bin Laden. Who as far as I can tell died in his sins last night and instantly faced the awful wrath of my Lord. I felt sorrow that he will spend eternity in agony as just punishment for the evil in his heart and in his actions.
I felt humbled and grateful. Because my heart is not any different from bin Laden’s. And I deserve the same end he now faces. Except for some reason God decided to lavish His grace upon me and rescue me from the pit I was in and had no way of escaping from without Him. And in love and obedience Jesus the Son bore the wrath meant justly for me and so saved me from ever having to face it myself.
I felt worried that Americans’ gloating over bin Laden’s death would arouse further hatred of the U.S. by Islamists within our country and without…and that would lead to more and sooner terrorist attacks on our soil. I felt concerned for the safety of Arab-Americans—and any American who looks remotely Middle Eastern…that the celebration of bin Laden’s death would give other Americans, drunk on mob mentality, an excuse to attack them without cause, as happened after 9/11.
And I felt hope. Hope that the wind will be knocked out of the sails of al-Qaeda and those trapped within its grasp. That this blow would create a crack in their resolve and sense of purpose. That the death of the man they worshipped would leave them more open to turning their worship to the only Man who deserves it.
Osama bin Laden will not be coming back to life. But Jesus Christ already has, and He longs to extend mercy to all who would call on His name.
Photo credit: Michael Appleton for the New York Times