Upon hearing of the death of Osama bin Laden, the Rev. Ken Ehrman of Minnesota sent an email blast to members of his local church inviting them to come that evening to discuss how they felt about it.
Given such short notice, he had no idea how many might respond, but 20 people came. They discussed the ambivalence a lot of us are feeling at the awkward celebration of the death of another human, even one so infamous as bin Laden.
Beyond a remarkable testament to Rev. Ehrman’s pastoral leadership, I think his act also points to something I felt need of but was missing in my own reaction to this news–a way to process my feelings, to deal with great uneasiness.
There is something that says I should not be dancing and singing in the street in the face of loss of life. The whole of the Christian story is about renewed, redeemed and restored life.
Bin Laden’s actions and words were utterly evil. He was an instrument of death. He spoke for death. And this is an offense to all that is decent and good and uplifting. It stands in stark contrast to all that we hope for and believe we should pursue as people who follow one who said, “I am come that you may have life and may live abundantly.”
There are some who will contend that in killing bin Laden, redemption is completed. And others will make the case that vengeance is justified. Many will make a biblical case for it.
But there is that lingering, haunting passage of scripture in which Jesus tells Peter to keep his sword sheathed when the soldiers come for him. His way is not to exact vengeance nor to live by the sword. But to lead toward life.
What, then are we to make of our ambivalent feelings? And how do we come to grips with them?
I think Rev. Ehrman got it right. We come together as a community of faith. We pray. We share honestly and openly our humanity, our doubts, our fears, our frustrations, and we lay them before God. We ask for strength and wisdom. We seek to support each other. We seek understanding. And we seek to learn more about The Way, as the early Christian path was known.
I think a faithful response is reflective and prayerful. Humble. Life seeking. For we have within us the same passions and hubris that can lead us to take as well as give life. And this capacity should make us very humble and cautious of our driving emotions.
Above all, unlike bin Laden, I believe as followers of Jesus we must seek the leading causes of life, a phrase my friend Gary Gunderson has popularized, lest we behave with the same disregard for the sacredness of life that we so deeply and strongly reject.