For starters, I’m irritated with the fact that it was under Obama’s command that he was killed. This isn’t a political statement or a revelation of my allegiances; It all comes down to grammar. About 6 times now I have been in conversation with someone about the death of Obama, at which point I feel like an idiot. I seem to remember John Stewart joking about the same mistake.
On a more serious note, I feel very ambivalent about the whole thing. One the one hand, a dangerous man responsible the deaths of thousands of people all over the world is now dead. That is justice.
But a Christian is called to forgive. We believe that all humans bear God’s image (Imago Dei is the fancy-pants term), and thus we affirm the sacredness and dignity of all human life. I think this applies to issues of war, sexuality, human trafficking, business practices, ethics, and everything in between. The more I think about it, humans-as-imagesbearers is a pretty deep rabbit hole that too few venture down. That’s a different matter, I guess.
It particularly disturbs me, though, when the killing of bin Laden is labeled a victory. The taking of life is not a victory; at best it is a necessary evil – and I use that word specifically.
Jesus made a cryptic statement when he was on trial before Pilate, the governor, who was attempting to assess whether Jesus is a threat to the peace and security of Roman interests in Judea. “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would have been fighting…” Sounds simple, right? It is, but it also goes very deep into the heart of the matter for today.
Palestine had a reputation of violence for hundreds of years before and after Jesus’ life. Jewish revolts were relatively common, often beginning in the context of the great Temple in Jerusalem. Or to put it another way, the many revolts that took place against the Romans were messianic in nature. The Messiah, it was thought, would lead the great war to kick the Romans out and reestablish an autonomous Jewish nation. These were incredibly bloody affairs, and they rarely ended well for the Jews, especially around the 1st centuries BCE and CE.
So Pilate had to decide whether Jesus was yet another violent revolutionary leader. As it turns out, he was not. Jesus recognized the futility and evil of violence and taught his disciples the same – not that they always understood. His kingdom was not of the world because it operated under a different set of values, but it was still very much for this world.
And this is where we get to the heart of the matter. If read with this background in mind, we can come to understand a deep truth regarding the nature of evil. Namely, that one of the tools of evil is violence, and fighting will never really eliminate the problem. It might contain it, but it will always resurface. This is why thoughtful and courageous non-violent resistance can be wildly successful, especially when the enemy is much more powerful: it strips them of their power.
Giving into violence might make the situation better for a time, but it will never make evil go away. Since all human life is sacred, even those responsible for incredible evil, Osama’s death is still a tragedy. Necessary, but tragic. It is better that he is dead? Probably. Is it a cause for celebration? No, never. We defeat our enemies through forgiveness, not by killing them, and we do not celebrate the death of anyone.