Osama bin Laden's dead, and there was cheering and fist-pumping.
Why is that?
I want to look at a few reasons why there was a celebration of sorts when the news of bin Laden's death was announced early this month. Let's begin...
First, this outcome was one that many people had been desiring for more than ten years. Bin Laden was not only the architect of the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington, but was also involved in the embassy bombings in 1998. He was a target for assassination or arrest from that earlier date onward. His killing marked the end of that long and often discouraging hunt.
Second, it confirmed that we had the means and the perseverance to pursue someone like bin Laden until our goal was reached. That fact alone was felt by many to be worth celebrating.
Third, it was American forces that took him out, that raided his compound without a single casualty on our side, and that then captured a treasure trove of very important information on his computer hard drives and other storage media. Despite long odds, the mission was a spectacular success. The loss of a helicopter was perhaps the only thing that didn't go as planned.
Fourth, Osama bin Laden was the face of the boogie man, the likeness that represented everyone who hates America and what we stand for, what we believe, who we are as a nation and a people. That face can no longer sit in protected isolation, and sneer at and threaten the United States. That voice has been silenced.
And finally, his death marks the end of a very painful chapter in American life. There will still be terrorist threats, there will still be attacks to be thwarted, but the person who was so successful at bringing them about is no more. America - 1, bin Laden - 0. Game over.
Even as a Christian, you can feel good about bin Laden's death, if you're so inclined. Read Psalm 149 - verses 6 through 9 read like this (from the NIV translation):
May the praise of God be in their mouths
and a double-edged sword in their hands,
to inflict vengeance on the nations
and punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings with fetters,
their nobles with shackles of iron,
to carry out the sentence written against them—
this is the glory of all his faithful people.
Does that sound even a little triumphalist to you? I don't see any concern for the "nations," but rather an eagerness for "carry(ing) out the sentence written against them." I see vindication being played out. What do you see?
Or how about Psalm 68, verses 20 through 23? Check this out, from the ESV:
Our God is a God of salvation,
and to GOD, the Lord, belong deliverances from death.
But God will strike the heads of his enemies,
the hairy crown of him who walks in his guilty ways.
The Lord said, "I will bring them back from Bashan,
I will bring them back from the depths of the sea,
that you may strike your feet in their blood,
that the tongues of your dogs may have their portion from the foe."
Now exactly what does that mean?
And finally, from Exodus 15, verses 1 through 4 (and onward, actually), this (again, from the ESV):
Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying,
"I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father's God, and I will exalt him.
The LORD is a man of war;
the LORD is his name.
"Pharaoh's chariots and his host he cast into the sea,
and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea.
That sounds like a celebration to me.
Now let's be clear. I'm a Christian, and I believe in the Bible as inspired word. I also believe that it reflects the histories and attitudes of real people living through real events, as well as poetic expressions of their feelings and wishes, and so much more. This celebration of the "bad guys" getting what's coming to them is as old as humanity, and why should the attitudes of the ancient Israelites be any different from our own regarding bin Laden? That really would be expecting too much, don't you think?
So there you have a brief survey of why we cheered when bin Laden died, from both the secular and the scriptural sides. And yet, there was a more complex mix of reactions to his death in evidence in the days and weeks that followed the announcement. We've seen more revelations of what life in his compound was like, and a sordid life it was, apparently. These latest tidbits haven't changed the reaction or its complexity, though. And of course, news moves fast - the events surrounding bin Laden's death have been been displaced with other, more recent news.
I'll explore why we may have felt less than enthusiastic about his death in the next post. Stay tuned.