Reflecting on the Death of Osama Bin Laden – Part 1 – My First UnEdited Thoughts

Like everyone, I’ve been asked and have been asking others on their thoughts about the Osama Bin Laden’s death. When I first found out, here were my first unedited  thoughts – 1. “Wow, I didn’t think we’d ever go through the trouble of actually finding him”. If I had to articulate my first non-verbal emotional thought, I think I would describe it as “relieved satisfaction”. 2. “Wow, no trial like Saddam, they just killed him.” (non-verbal emotion – the shock meeting instant rationalization) 3. “Wow, he’s dead.” (Reality settling in). In no way am I saying that these are the right thoughts, I’m still working on that, I’m only saying these were my first unedited honest thoughts.

Then I saw the tweets. They expressed a range of many emotions from somber and reflective to jubilation and giddiness. Then I went turned on the tv and saw people celebrating in New York and DC, my immediate thought was surprise. That’s a tricky word, let me unpack that. I’m not sure I felt that it was awful that people were celebrating in the streets but my first thought is that it was odd, especially since the college students were barely 10 years old on 9/11.  More on celebrating an enemy’s demise later this week.

Later that Sunday night, I had a couple other thoughts – “This must be help offer closure to the families who lost someone on 9-11 and the families of our service men and women who have been fighting the war on terror.” It didn’t take long for me to catch a news clip of a 9-11 father expressing that it was bittersweet and that it did offer closure. I had a prayerful moment there. I was also impressed with Obama, his speech and the execution of his plan.

I’m not sure I can high-five the killing of OBL but it would seem appropriate for the Navy Seal Team to do that. And I find a discrepancy there. And after a day’s worth of thought, it would seem to be more “moral” to bring him to trial. The idealistic part of me wonders how humbling that would have been for him. I also wondered if its “government’s” obligation to confront one with their moral trespasses. This thought was a luxury I had while sitting in my safe and comfortable church office. Then there’s what I would call the realistic part of me that thought, “I’m sorry but I’m not going to give sympathy to the killing of a terrorist responsible for the loss and ruining of thousands of lives.” Further, from watching Saddam’s trial, while I will never know what he truly believed in his heart, he came across to me as delusional to the end. Looking back on it, though there was a sense of justice that he was captured and brought to trial, I don’t think it would have bothered me had he been executed in the same manner of Osama. I say this because in some sense, when does a trial really begin? I think I could make the case that Osama’s trial began September 12, 2001 and the final result of the verdict on May 1, 2011.

This is among a few very difficult issues for me. Like many, I hate the idea of war and violence and much more prefer the path of non-violence. I like reading about pacifism but ultimately reject it in its purest form. I even struggle with the idea of whether you can actually be a pacifist and still live in America. If you are in my youth ministry or in my church, you know that I pray for our enemies, you also know I pray and fast for our troops. I can’t wait for our troops to return home, I pray for their re-entry and I cringe every time I think about it because the words of theologian Stanley Hauerwas haunt me, “The worst thing we do to our troops is not that we ask them to kill another man but after they do, we ask them to return to normal” (a paraphrase I heard from a lecture given).

While part of me does not want to give this terrorist the honor of having any more of my time, words or attention, there’s another part of me that finds the great importance of us as Christians to process this in community. In a time of prayer yesterday, it seemed clear that we should talk about this at youth group this week. (It will also be a “God at the Pub” discussion in a few weeks too).  I invite you to pray specifically for teenagers as they try to make sense of all of this as well.  These moments can have profound effect on the soul.

Over the years I’ve learned “everything spills over into everything”. And when we talk about things like patriotism, we are also talking about things like family, morality and faith. When we talk about peace, we are also talking about war, government and justice. And when we talk about all these things, we also talk about forgiveness, love and God. Based on my social media experience, more and more will regulate this conversation out of Twitter and Facebook and I think it’s going to take me a while to reflect. So I invite you to reflect with me here. What were your first unedited thoughts upon hearing that Osama Bin Laden has been killed?



    That’s what went through my head and heart, and still does.

  2. Tim,

    This has been hard to process for many reasons. I will briefly touch on my heart-issues.

    Can I celebrate the striking of a blow to evil without celebrating the death of this man? Is it ever right to rejoice in death? And while we enacted justice, who’s brand of justice did we enact? Is retributive justice ever the answer? In our human hearts, don’t we have subjective views of justice and corruption? Who’s version is right? This was my blog post from the other day.

    After reading some of the interviews from 9/11 families another thought springs forth; most of the family members call themselves numb, unsettled and uncomfortable. Some still didn’t feel any sense of closure. So, if justice was enacted, shouldn’t they be the ones rejoicing and not the college-aged kids (the most-effected not the least should be the most impacted)? Perhaps they understand the hardest part of this; no matter how often we breed hatred and violence death doesn’t bring back life.

    These are just a few brief thoughts. Anyway, I will see you tomorrow! Love you brother!

    God bless!

  3. Thanks for sharing, brother. I share a lot of the same thoughts with you. Here are some of thoughts: I really think this is a moment for the church to take a stand in these matters of life, war, vengeance, and Jesus’ kingdom. Thanks for processing through them.

  4. My first thoughts:

    “That contradiction you Xians feel tonight is the tension between Empire and Kingdom. #Osamabinladen”

  5. It was easy for me to celebrate justice, the type of justice that Romans 13 tells us is given to the state, but it was very hard for me to watch the celebration of death itself. I think it’s appropriate to celebrate justice being served, but we should recognize it could have been served in another way (his capture).

    Here in Canada many were reporting of the “assassination” of OBL, which if that was what happened then I think any form of celebration would be very difficult. If the intent was to kill him, that’s hard to be glad about. However, if the intent was capture but the reality of attempting to capture brought about his death, then it’s much easier to be happy about our “winning” that particular battle.

    I don’t want to harp on those celebrating too hard though, I think there could be other factors in play that contribute to the singing and dancing. For example, when Timothy McVeigh was caught and executed, almost no one danced about it (btw, I’m from Oklahoma). But it didn’t take 10 years to catch him, like it did OBL. I wonder if some of the celebration was more to “finally he’s no longer free” and not “finally he’s dead.”

    I do think it’s a good sign that many people have paused to reflect on an appropriate response. Hesitation and unease seems very appropriate for this type of event.

  6. Ruthann Anderson says:

    My first thoughts were OH YEAH! WE FINALLY GOT HIM! As the moments have passed, though, soberness has replaced jubilance.

    Did I like OBL? Not in the least! His life was given over to violence and evil cloaked in religious devotion. Would I have ever wanted to break bread with him? ABSOLUTELY NOT! First, I’d be afraid he’d poisoned my food; second I have no desire to flirt with such personification of evil.

    I am not sad he is dead, because he wasted his life. That said, you won’t see me dancing in the streets. The real tragedy is ultimately a God-given life wasted on Kingdom destroying, not Kingdom building. I hate how so many people’s lives were destroyed and marred by his choosing to use his life to perpetuate the dark side. To me, that is nothing to dance about.

  7. Tim, I love reading your blog postings. This latest really hits home for me. The details of the operation are slowly coming out, and it’s still painful to think of 9/11 and what has happened in the US and elsewhere since. Some sources say that ‘capture’ was the preferred method, but OBL picked up a weapon and the highly specialized SEALs did as was instructed in case of action. I don’t condone death but I am relieved that this part of the operation is over. Would prefer the troops could now come home, but just don’t think that will ever happen. :(

  8. Bro,

    I’m relived he’s gone but I’m uncomfortable with celebration of this.

    When I saw images of people celebrating, I immediately connected that with video of other terrorist/extremists celebrating and burning American flags as the trade centers fell on 9/11. I would have liked to see us respond differently, our president says we aren’t terrorists and we aren’t at war with Muslims. Not sure our populace agrees, taking joy in the killing of human, albeit a vile one, and again taking an opportunity to use our free speech to show exactly how unloving we are to other cultures by painting them with broad strokes and lumping everyone in with the extremists. I like what I read in a CNN article today calling for somber reflection, I would have appreciated that, a national moment of closure and possibly sending a message to the world that we aren’t all good ole boys with an endless grudge by showing some humility. Our country missed yet another opportunity to communicate a message to the world through our actions. Our president missed an opportunity to speak to the world without a personal agenda to gain from this, and in doing so, we continue to add fuel to an international fire that at least had some part in what happened on 9/11. So I’m pretty conflicted about the whole thing, relieved but not joyful or celebratory and praying this doesn’t lead to more blood shed from a lack of humility on the part of the US.

  9. Thanks everyone for your comments. I want to respond to some of this but it’s taking me longer than expected to give the type of attention and sincerity deserved here. Thanks again for reading.

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