When you slay the monster…

So the old monster is dead. And we danced in the streets.

Osama bin Laden’s legacy of violence met with a violent end.

He was asking for it. With every life he took. With every blasphemy.

After all, he didn’t just kill. He killed in the name of God. If attributing God’s work to the devil is the unpardonable sin, then surely committing atrocities in the name of God is a close cousin.

Jesus warned that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Bin Laden’s death is a sobering reminder of this. But Jesus’ words are a warning to us, too: There is no such thing as redemptive violence. No such thing as peace through conquest. You can’t kill your way to safety or bomb your way to security.

Ten thousand some-odd years of recorded history are a testament to this.

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes you have to stand up to oppressors. And sometimes it takes more than a gentle, “Hey, could you try being a little nicer?”

Osama bin Laden got the end he was asking for. But let’s not kid ourselves. Violence only begets more violence.

A friend of mine, troubled by the scenes of jubilation that followed, asked me, “Should we be celebrating bin Laden’s death?”

Should we?

Breathe a sigh of relief… sure. We all did that. But celebrate?

It reminds me of one of the most disturbing scenes from September 11. While most of us mourned, in some corners of the world people danced. Kids handed out candy. They reveled in our trauma. For them, the loss of 3,000 lives was cause for celebration.

Whatever the reasons for their resentment of us, the bloodlust it produced was chilling.

Granted, there’s a difference between callously celebrating the deaths of 3,000 innocents and rejoicing in the demise of a mass murderer. But in God’s eyes, the difference is not as great as you might think…

Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them.

— Saying 28, Proverbs 24

EVERY death, deserved or undeserved, is a tragedy. A painful reminder that our world is broken. Smug satisfaction (much less boisterous exultation) has no rightful part in meting out justice.

“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.”

— Ezekiel 33

The question we must ask: if God himself takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, how can we?

Southern Baptist theologian Al Mohler (who I generally have a hard time agreeing with) said it about as well as anyone:

Death in itself is never to be celebrated… Revenge has no place among those who honor justice… Revenge is not a worthy motivation for justice, and celebration in the streets is not a worthy response.

Should we find some degree of moral satisfaction in the fact that bin Laden did not die a natural death outside the reach of human justice? Yes, of course.

But open patriotic celebration in the streets? That looks far more like revenge in the eyes of a watching world, and it looks far more like we are simply taking satisfaction in the death of an enemy. That kind of revenge just produces greater numbers of enemies.

To desire justice is one thing. To be rid — and well rid — of one of the world’s most dangerous murderers is a good thing.

Only be careful that when you slay the monster, a new one doesn’t rise up in the mirror.

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