Our church in North Carolina took the youth to Lutherock camp the last weekend of April every year. The kids looked forward to hiking in the mountains, to Pastor Jim's faith scavenger hunt, and to bunking on the floor in the main room. The end of April in 2002, Jason and Michael smuggled some firecrackers with them, black cats, and were hoping for a good opportunity to use them. While hiking they found a pumpkin that had had its top removed. They stuck a wad of black cats in the pumpkin, lit them on fire, and as the orange ball exploded Michael yelled "Bin Laden's butt!" They all laughed.
Tonight we have heard that Osama Bin Laden is dead, killed by US special forces. CNN is busy getting reactions from a range of people - a firefighter from New York City, a correspondent who once interviewed Bin Laden, family members of those who died on 9-11-2001. A crowd has spontaneously gathered outside the White House cheering "USA! USA!" and waving flags. Our bitter enemy is dead and America is officially celebrating.
Just this morning in Sunday school we were pondering Matthew 5:43-45 where Jesus says "love your enemies." Working through a study called "For the Peace of the Whole World" our class has been discussing how peace can be made in a violent, broken world. This quest brought us to grapple with Jesus' command that we love our enemies. We've worked to define what "love" is in reference to people who hurt us; we've admitted that this commandment is hard, very hard to fulfill. The material we're using makes clear that "loving" one's enemies does not mean denying or dismissing the harm they have done; it does not preclude seeking justice. As we wrestled with the real-life implications of "loving our enemies" we decided that this meant not hating them, seeking justice rather than vengeance, and even seeking their wellbeing while pursuing justice.
Osama bin Laden is dead. I felt a sense of elation when I heard the news; I felt pride in our nation and especially in those who carried out this operation - from the intelligence officers, to the President, to the men and women who enacted the plan. At the same time I am mindful of not wanting to rejoice in the death, the killing, of any human being. Shortly after 9-11 we were shown pictures of people in some Arab nations who were celebrating the deaths of 3000 innocent people here. It was a sickening sight. In our minds bin Laden is deserving of death whereas those 3000 were not. Even so, I do not want to be happy, to dance, because someone has died.
We serve a Lord who told us to love our enemies, a Lord who allowed himself to be killed for the redemption of the world - to save sinners. As an American I feel relief and a sense of accomplishment that our enemy, bin Laden, is dead. As a Christian, as someone who loves Jesus, I take seriously Jesus' command to love, to forgive, to seek life and reconciliation. How do we do that in this situation? It seems to me that we can be glad and relieved that bin Laden is gone without gloating to the rest of the world, without antagonizing other peoples. And that is not only a good thing to do, but a smart response.
Darryl left for Afghanistan maybe 6 weeks ago. This is his first tour over there with the Marines. Darryl, his Mom, and I prayed for his safety the day before he left; I anointed his head with oil. We want him back, whole and well. We want all our soldiers to come back safely. If we can "love" our enemies by pursuing justice yet also treating others with humanity and respect, maybe Darryl and his comrades will be a little safer in Afghanistan, in Iraq. If we love our enemies rather than hate them, if we act so that our dedication to justice is clear and our kindness to others - even those who hate us - is at the forefront, maybe peace will find a place in this tired world.
May God bless and watch over Darryl and all the men and women serving our nation. And may peace be swiftly on its way, for us and for all peoples.