02 May 2011

swallowed by the Red Sea

Osama Bin Laden, confirmed dead, 1 May 2011.

(I learned this as I was being mocked at my window by an opossum, but that's a story for another day.)

The facebook statuses were all over the place.

There is a fairly sizable group of boot-in-your-ass folks celebrating with much glee. ("Sick Bastard- got what he deserved")
There are some more academic-minded people who are making note of the event merely because of its historical significance.
There are some people who would much rather go back to normal life and ignore the event, nearing offended that their television programming has been interrupted to broadcast this piece of news.
And then there is a group of people calling us to repent for being excited he's dead. ("True Christianity precludes us from being joyful about any man's death")

I don't know if I'm going to go there yet with the kiddos. Ada, my second grader, knows about September 11 and the twin towers. She has a vague notion of terrorism. She doesn't know the names of all of the guys involved.

But often we don't get to choose whether we go there. Children overhear conversations, radio news, read articles over our shoulders, etc. If we really, really want to protect them from something, we usually can, but Paul and I naturally tend toward explanation over sheltering.

(The Billboard promoting the Strip Joint on the Way to Church falls into the shelter category, however.)

So, since the little buggers may say to me, over the next week or so, "Who is this Osama character, and are we glad he's dead?" or some such, here we go:

Are we excited? Are we to grieve all death? What is the proper posture to take?

What is the proper view toward Osama, and by extension, all the bad guys?

Bad Guys? Bad Guys exist. Some people are actually bad. Yes, we're all sinners, but we aren't all bad guys.

Children know this intuitively, and it's important that we don't try to talk them out of it. The four-year-old disobeys and takes food to his room, or worse, gets frustrated and shoves his little brother. The nearing-seven-year-old has a bad attitude about nearly everything at one time or another, and can be, frankly, unpleasant. I have been known to speak pretty darn unkind words to my husband, to gossip, and to have hate in my heart toward fellow drivers on the road (and those are the sins I'm willing to own up to publicly.....)

Hitler rounded up the Jews and sent them to concentration camps.

The children know the difference. Don't try to convince them otherwise. Really.

People who kill innocents are bad guys. Osama Bin Laden is a terrorist. He's a bad guy. Yeah, we're all sinners, but we aren't all terrorists.

God is very, very clear in the bible that there are bad guys and good guys, who are still very much sinners. Jesus isn't the only good guy.

David - adulterer, murderer - good guy; Peter - denier of Christ, chopper off of ears - good guy; Rahab - woman of the night, betrayer of her people - good gal. Why? Because they, even and sometimes especially in their flawed, sinful natures and acts, are on the side of the Lord, on the side of love and peace and truth and honesty. They want the good guys to win - for the Lord of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to prevail.

(If you'd like a secular argument for this, almost any ethical or political system will work. Allowing the killing of innocents won't pass a utilitarian test, or just go with the social contract. We cannot allow the killing of innocents because the world will descend into a chaotic, Lockean state of nature, so we have all come together and agreed that killing of innocents is something we'd like to collectively ban and prevent. We've given up our right to kill other people at will so as to ensure that other folks aren't allowed either, and we've called the people who do it, you guessed it, bad guys.)

Back to the biblical characters: They are all saved by their faith, not because they are sinless. And the size or horror of the sin is irrelevant, it seems. Eason's 37th apple-in-his-room doesn't prevent his salvation, and neither did David's arranged and premeditated murder of Uriah. But Pharoah's sin is different, right? Hitler and Stalin aren't even saved under the most gracious of views, right? Mostly, our bad guys qualification is based on what these people do to society. But there is some 'hardness of heart' going on too, right? Either way....

... there are bad guys. We'll often times disagree about who they are, but they exist.

If there are bad guys, and there are (see above), Osama is a bad guy, we'd almost all agree, right?

So, what's our proper attitude toward bad guys? And, consequently to their death?

Well, I think the Book of Common Prayer describes the right, first, governing attitude:

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love
our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth:
deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in
your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We are to pray for our enemies to come to the Father. To come to truth. To deny hatred, cruelty and revenge. And for us to do the same: we also need to stay away from these traits, and don't think, that because we are good guys, we're not able to fall into hatred, cruelty, and revenge.

It would be wrong for us to prefer the death of Osama to his conversion and living a right life. We are called never to hate, never to be cruel, and never to seek revenge.
The boot in your ass guys need a little (or a lot of) tempering.

But is it okay for us to be glad he's dead?

Well, yes. Heavens yes, in fact.


Because, back to basics here, he was killing innocent people. It's not as though he had stopped being a bad guy.
Preach to him, pray for him, attempt to capture and try him in a court of law, but ultimately, if he's going to flog women for being rape victims or organize the mass murder of innocents for being capitalists, he's got to be stopped. The sooner the better.

This is where it's hard with children. We absolutely do not want to foment hatred or a sense of self-righteous revenge. We want the opposite. We are trying our best to train up humble servants who judge not, notice the plank first, and know full well that they are no better than their sinning neighbor. But we are for good prevailing over evil, and sometimes that comes down to a CIA sniper. Yes, that should be done with great trepidation, and we've not enough of that fear and trembling in 21st century America.
But, if ever a guy demanded, by his actions, to be at the other end of a rifle, Bin Laden is he.

If Eason turns out to be a boot-in-the-ass, it's-the-American-way type of guy, I'll cry. And maybe place my own boot...

But, if we get trapped in "But we are supposed to love our enemies" land so much so that we allow our enemies to ruthlessly rape and murder our friends, we are no longer loving anyone; we're just paralyzed.

It's good that Osama is dead, because it's good that he's been stopped. It's good that he's dead, because God did not see fit to stop him by conversion or capture. Rejoice that the bad guy has been stopped (not in his death, per se), that our men and women in uniform have succeeded, and thus people have been saved. The children already know that this is the right reaction. We don't celebrate the death - at all - but we celebrate the victory of good over evil, and are fairly much over the death.

We read to our children the Exodus story. The story of a people enslaved, abused, murdered. A sinful people, no doubt, but a people under the thumb of a much worse dictator - a bad guy. We go through all the plagues. And then the sun-god Pharoah goes back on his word again. And chases after the fleeing Israelites. God allows the the walls of the Red Sea to fall. And a large chunk of Pharoah's army drowns, thrashing about in a violent death. And yet, the children don't lose sleep, or even blink an eye, really, over the Egyptians being swallowed by the Red Sea. They are the bad guys; the people of Israel were thus saved.

It's a hard line to walk, but we've a responsibility, as people, and an extra one as parents, to walk it: To teach them that sometimes death is the route to deliverance, and the rejoicing over the deliverance is the natural and right reaction.

That's a difficult belief to hold in tension, much less teach. But hop on board, friends, this is the life we've been given.


  1. Much could be said about Osama. He was in many ways plain crazy. He supported violence against all opponents of his vision, as well as violence against those not merely aiding his opponents but not also fighting against those opponents. Reading some of his defenses of this sort of "war" is chilling. He was also a proponent of a world-wide Islamist empire which would have sought to destroy the churches of Jesus Christ. So, on all accounts, he is a bad guy.

    We do desire his salvation- and we are never the final judges- but his public significance also needed to be dealt with. The rod of iron smashes evil because doing so is good and necessary. Civil governments are called both "deacons of God" and "avengers of wrath," understanding that both are powers of God. Restitution had to be made. And so again, we can rejoice.

    Teach the kids to rejoice in the king of the heavens, making sure that his enemies and theirs are the same. But remind them to be humble, noting the old Christian saying, "There but for the grace of God go I." Ultimately Osama was a man who allowed his own sense of wrath to drive him to great depravity. Let us not imitate such wrath, but sacrifice it upon the cross which bore all wrath.

  2. Well said, Steven. Children look around and very much understand the world in good guys and bad guys (and our daily bible stories cement this for them) - a right attitude toward the bad guys always includes John Bradford's near-perfect saying.

    I do see, though, a reluctance of folks to hold the tension - I am seeing, on my news feed, a polarity of either "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead - he had it coming - the sick bastard - that's what you get when you cross America" or "God forgive us for delighting in anyone's death; Thou shalt not kill; Love your enemies"

    I think you're right 'sacrificing it on the cross which bore all wrath' is the only way to resolve our responsibilities - as Christians and civilians.

  3. Steve Shargel02 May, 2011 18:48

    Good words, Ann Lowrey. That little part about there actually being bad guys is a lot harder to swallow when you've been trained from youth that grace obliterates all moral differences, even the most basic ones.