Celebration at ground zero. Photo Credit: flickr/David Miller. Usage does not represent endorsement by the photographer.
For some, the news brought an understandable sense of relief, or a bit of overdue closure. Others are viewing the event through a purely strategic lens, believing the kill shot to be an accomplishment only because it will likely avert greater violence in the future. The merits of such reactions are debatable. But those who boldly celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden have fallen for a devilish trick. In an effort to assert moral superiority and to separate from the legacy of the infamous terrorist, they have unwittingly participated in the same hatred that gave birth to his kind of extremism.
This is how it goes with nationalism. The lie is that our celebration of this violent death is warranted, but when others trample and dance on the charred bodies of dead Americans in Fallujah, it is vile. The lie is that one victory is enough to wash all the recent blood off of our own hands. The lie is that the enemy always deserves what is coming to them, while we are perpetually innocent. Nationalism is just like slipping into a warm bath. If you want to make things easy on yourself, just focus on the colors on the flag, trust the crowds and their jubilation, and believe in the power of courageous words. Slide in, and let your questions and all consequences melt away. God takes a different approach. Ezekiel 33:11 says “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”
It is in this moment of celebration over the death of another human being that we indulge in self-righteousness and ignore the darkness in ourselves. The cross of Christ does not destroy the notion of enemies, but for those who follow Him, it does provoke a new response in us, because it is at the cross that we see ourselves unified with all mankind by our common darkness and need for restorative grace. Frederick Buechner said it well when he wrote “maybe those are the words that best sum up the paradox of who we are and where we are. Somewhere between darkness and light.”
You will find me celebrating in the streets when the appetite of the American War Machine is finally satisfied. When the death of Bin Laden is no longer used to whitewash over this nation’s recent atrocities committed during the War on Terror, and no longer serves as leverage for this continual war. When the U.S. announces an end to these wars, and removes our men and women from the battlefield. When we return our bases in the Middle East to the countries who own the land they’re built on. When we stop empowering the evil of terrorism in an indirect way through our exaggerated fears and disproportionate response. I will cheer when we acknowledge the reality of terrorism, but no longer surrender the pursuit of liberty and justice for all as we attempt to address it. On that day, it will be time to celebrate, and if that day never comes, then we can still look forward with hope:
“He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”- Isaiah 2:4