faith fridays: a christian’s response to a terrorist’s death

By now, we’ve all had some time to process the death of Osama bin Laden. Nearly every social group in which I’m involved has addressed in one way or another this monumental event in our world’s history. Many thoughts are still half-formed, simmering and processing as news continues to pour in hourly.

“Where were you when you heard the news?” was one of the questions buzzing on Twitter just moments after the announcement was made on TV. One fellow North Dakota mother responded: “Snuggling my 10-month-old.” I was finishing up some Sunday-night paperwork when my husband called me into his man cave (music/exercise/TV room), where we watched together the quickly unfolding details, trying to make sense of them coming so closely on the heels of Blessed John Paul II’s beatification. Many of us will remember where we were on that tragic day of September 11, 2001, and this as well.

But perhaps as much as anything else, and apart from the actual news itself, I will remember my confusion. Certainly, there was confusion on 9-11-01 as well, not to mention great fear. This time, my disorientation surrounded the fact that we have been anticipating this day for nearly a decade, and yet, now that it’s come, it’s obvious we’re not fully equipped to respond appropriately.

Times like this, it seems to me, is when we catch a glimpse of how the faithful process the world and its events differently than our non-believing counterparts, though our responses still vary individually. The worldly have, in large part, a certain collective reaction. But the Christian is called to go a step further and not just process such a thing fully on emotion, but through the lens of faith. Hopefully, if we are living our faith in an authentic way, our gut response will not be the one that persists. There is always more to consider the moment faith enters in.

For example, the dancing in the streets; while I could understand that initial reaction to some degree, I and many others with whom I talked shortly afterward found it distressing. We remember all too well when things were reversed, and others from other worlds were dancing and celebrating at our expense. How can we, then, do the same? And how can we feel truly vindicated by another death?

I was relieved to read an article from the Catholic News Service the same day I learned of Osama’s death: “Vatican says bin Laden’s death cause for reflection, not rejoicing.” How grateful I was to learn other Christians might be feeling similarly to me; that even though initially there may have been a sense of victory, it did not persist.

Just before Easter I talked about the dichotomies involved in the faith life — suffering leading to death, and death leading to life. What we see at first is not always what we’re meant to take away. The death of a terrorist, while bringing some initial relief, doesn’t completely wipe away the wrong that was committed. It’s not that simple. Instead, we’re left with temporary relief, only to realize in the next breath that the death brings with it new implications, new things to worry over, and not an enduring sense of peace and justice.

Aside from Twitter and email, I took part in a discussion on Facebook the day following the announcement. One of my favorite quotes to emerge there was one from Martin Luther King, Jr., who so succinctly describes my feelings:

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

[Post-composition update: As reader Adam points out below, this quote was made up and attributed to MLK by its creator. Who knew? It still resonates so I’ll leave it in, but with that caveat of deceit surrounding it…*sigh*…]

And really, that’s what we’re left with, I think. We are not freed from any of the questions we had prior to Osama bin Laden’s death. I’m not saying that ridding the world of one demented man does not lead to a safer world, but neither is there an assurance that it will. Either way, I have to side with MLK here and be left not with a feeling of exaltation, but rumination. And always, always, the need to bend down in prayer and ask that God be with us, now and forever.

Q4U: Where were you when you learned the news of Osama bin Laden’s death?