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Monday, May 2, 2011


Warning: this might be the most candid post I’ve yet written.

I am in a strange place today. One of confusion and struggle, torn between joy and grief. And it is all centered around one of the most evil men to dwell upon this planet in recent years.

Of course, I am talking about the news of Osama bin Laden’s death.

Millions of blogs, articles, tweets, and facebook statuses have already been written on the topic. I’ve done a few myself. But I want to reflect for a few moments on what I have been wrestling through over the hours since hearing the news.

My immediate reaction when hearing the news of bin Laden’s death was shock. I thought, “Wow, that’s it.” A man, who for decades has terrorized America, was dead. I didn’t necessarily feel any safer. I didn’t even necessarily feel avenged. I just felt closure.

Then the tweets and facebook statuses began to roll in…

The response was overwhelming. The sense of national pride and victory was poignant. As I was reading, suddenly it hit me – I didn’t feel the same way.

Now, let me explain. I love my country. I am proud to be an American. (My favorite song in 4th grade was by Lee Greenwood.) But for some reason, my heart was heavy, not joyful, as I began to reflect on Osama bin Laden’s death.

I don’t know why this is. I certainly do not think myself as more holy than any others, nor do I consider my response to be the appropriate one. In fact, my own response has confused me more than comforted me. This was my initial post:

I struggle to have any love for Osama bin Laden, but for some reason I also have trouble rejoicing in his death. He was definitely evil, but I grieve for his soul.”

I couldn’t bring myself to rejoice over this death. I felt grief. I felt sorrow for a man who rejected so strongly God’s grace and love. And the ongoing tweets and statuses did not help. I felt guilty for not joining in the celebration. I felt anger and shame at some of the things fellow Christians were posting. I felt confusion as many friends and mentors raised good thoughts on appropriate approaches to this celebration.

Yet, in the midst of it all, I kept thinking to myself, “What is the appropriate Christian response? How do I reflect the heart of God in this moment?” I have and offer no definite answers. I can only relate my own process right now.

The best place to begin any search like this is by looking at what the Bible says. The first part of Ezekiel 33:11 states, “Say to them, 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.

Furthermore, Jesus says in Matthew 5:43-48: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Maybe it’s an empathetic heart God has placed in me, but I cannot delight in the death of any person, be they wicked or good. In fact, I grieve harder knowing that another soul has been lost. As a Christian, I cannot bring myself to delight in that. Likewise, I struggle to find that line where I begin to worship my nation over my God.

However, in the midst of this, I have found that my proper response needs to be one of worship. I worship by lamenting over evil and the destruction that evil has brought into this world. I worship by celebrating God’s ultimate victory over death and over the powers of evil. He reigns victorious, and I give Him the glory. I worship by submitting to the Holy Spirit, allowing its peace and comfort to penetrate my life, being okay with not having all the answers I am looking for. I worship by knowing there is a community of faith in this process with me, finding ways to seek out and do justice.

And so, today I celebrate justice, not vengeance. Peace, not violence. A sense of closure for victims, not feelings of wrath. The end of an evil era, not the end of another child of God. I grieve that evil people continue to be at work in this world, and pray that we will continue to stand up against such evil. I pray, not for the destruction of evil people, but that they will repent and know Christ. I celebrate Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. I celebrate that I am a child of God, and that feelings like this remind me He’s not done with me yet. 


  1. For further reading on this topic by people who have been helping me process this, I recommend the following blog posts:




  2. Good article Jonathan! I have had similar feelings since hearing the news last night...none of which have been joy. I feel more broken for the ways in which we embrace and endorse violence as a way of life rather than the kingdom-life of God. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Glad to see others feel as I do.

  4. Great post.
    As a fellow (Catholic) Christian, I also take comfort that we can turn to scripture in times like this. Isn't that such a great gift we have?

    It is interesting to think of what happened when he faced Jesus. Did he repent? Of course we are inclined to think that he is in hell, but there is a chance that he repented and was forgiven, which I know is a controversial statement.

    All in all, the reality of the situation is that our military was strategizing to kill bin Laden. And they did. Doesn't sit well, but that is war. What those brave soldiers did was heroic and changed history.

  5. Jonathan, I love how in your processing, you responded with worship seeking deeper relationship with God through this event. You've inspired me, thanks.

  6. Thanks everyone! I really appreciate your comments. I hope you have also been able to read through some of the posts I recommended.

  7. http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/is-god-glad-osama-bin-ladens-dead

  8. humble. authentic. grace. beautiful.

  9. Sorry, I can't disagree more. While I truly admire your desire to honor God in this time of difficulty, Osama bin Laden wasn't another man whose death brings "closure." He was as close to evil incarnate as we see on earth. He killed innocent men, women, and children to advance a perverted theological agenda that couldn't possibly be any more antithetical to Christianity. If you found a cancer in your body, you would rejoice when it was removed for good. OBL was a malignancy on humanity, and his death is a cause for rejoicing. If Hitler had been killed early, and you could know that his death saved millions of lives, wouldn't you rejoice before God? Didn't Israel rejoice before God many times - and didn't God instruct them to - when they wiped out their enemies? I appreciate your heart in this, but I think your mind needs to see it from a different perspective.

  10. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Robin. I can understand and have considered thoughts from your perspective. However, I believe there is an important tension on this issue that must be held.

    You say, "If you found cancer in your body, you would rejoice when it was removed for good." This is true. Yet, when it comes at the cost of something living, (for example, take a mastectomy for the removal of breast cancer), though there is rejoicing at the removal, there is also grief at the cost.

    You also say, "Didn't Israel rejoice before God many times - and didn't God instruct them to - when they wiped out their enemies?" Certainly! There is much biblical evidence to support this. However, I don't believe God fully rejoiced in having to completely destroy part of his creation, even though it was for divinely appointed purposes.

    If you were to ask me a week ago, a year ago, or ten years ago if I thought the world would be better with Osama bin Laden dead, I would have said yes. In fact, I can't say I disagree with that even now. But I also refuse to let my heart or mind be blinded by hatred and vengeance. I cannot overlook the fact that he was a child of God just as any one else is. Yet, he was a person, as you say, "antithetical to Christianity," and my heart grieves for that. I celebrate this justice, but I do not celebrate that a man has been fully separated from God.

    Call me naive, but I refuse to not struggle with this. I believe God is teaching me important things about His heart for humanity, and what it means for my own actions in the world. (I cannot forget my neighbors who do not know Christ are destined to the same ultimate end as Osama bin Laden.) There is a formative aspect to this struggle, and it is one I did not expect to be having right now.

    Thank you for spurring this conversation, Robin! Blessings!

  11. Are there degrees of celebration? Put differently, shouldn't President Obama be pleased that the order was executed effectively and the plan was achieved? On some level, this could be called a celebration, but perhaps not in the way that many use the term. On the other hand, shouting for joy and jubilation is taking such a celebration to another level that I find troubling, as you have voiced here, Jonathan. Does that make sense?

  12. Jeff - Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I'd say there are degrees of celebration. Or at least, there are certain things that inform celebration and inform what we bring into our celebration. For instance, a service on Good Friday is a celebration, but in a different sense than a service on Easter. (Does that make sense?)

    Now, that example may not have anything to do with Osama bin Laden, (and in no way whatsoever do I equate his death with Christ's), but I do think we celebrate this victory with a real sense of lament accompanying it. If we do not, I believe we miss out on something. I think this is part of what has been troubling me these past few days. The "joy and jubilation" you speak of has been rampant for many, but I have found my sense of celebration has an element of lament to it.

    I'm still trying to figure out what God is teaching me and showing me through this. Thanks, Jeff, for being another guiding voice.