The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming. (Psalm 37:12-13)
As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked. (Ezekiel 33:11)
As news of the death of Osama bin Laden rippled through the American consciousness, people of God must now contemplate which attribute of God to imitate. Many citizens rejoiced as the man responsible for the death of thousands of Americans on September 11, 2001 has received the judgment articulated to Noah: Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed. Justice is established; is this right warrant for celebration?
As a reminder of the dangers in spontaneity, Americans were horrified by images of pockets of Muslims around the world who danced in the streets when the Twin Towers fell. Equivalency is not suggested, but perceptions are telling: Some Muslims viewed 9/11 as comeuppance to a superpower aligned against their people, allowing the innocents as a casualty of war. Regretfully, some Americans have scant consciousness of the thousands of casualties in Afghanistan resulting, ostensibly, from the pursuit of bin Laden. Each will be judged in the intentions of their heart, not the reactions of the other. Yet the question of reception is fair: Crowds evidence the instinctual manifestation of the values of a people; what now will others see in us?
God is perfect in his judgment; as man rebels against his moral will God responds in both righteous sovereignty and empathetic longing. His laugh is at the futility of sin seeking imposition of an order other than his own. His lament is over the finality of such sin. As Ezekiel continues plaintively from the above: …but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die?
The American demonstrators can be forgiven their collective exhale at the sense of closure following senseless loss of life and a ten year war on terror. Furthermore, continued vigilance against those who threaten the innocent is demanded. Reflection on these celebrations, however, may give time for pause. What values do we pursue chiefly and model to the world? Justice, of course, is among them. Can there be room, even primacy, for mercy, forgiveness, and love?
President Obama rightly reemphasized this action was not against Islam. In doing so he pays tribute to an American value of fairness, refusing to attribute wrongly the sins of another. Governments may or may not be held to different standards of morality than individuals, but is there a way for the latter, at the least, to extend the value of goodness? Creative thinking is needed, but how might we view bin Laden and his ilk through the lens of transformation? How might the enemy hear, and then receive from us the call of Ezekiel?
The Bible closes with a scene from heaven, in which its inhabitants are urged, concerning the destruction of wicked Babylon: Rejoice over her, O heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you.
We are not in heaven yet. In this world, the overarching power of perspective can blind us to our own sins, blind us to the way we have treated others. Without the absolute wisdom of the end, we should not be so quick to assume the position of saints and apostles. Rather, as Jesus commended: Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. When we have received the ‘Well done, you good and faithful servant’, perhaps then, and only then, can we laugh along with God.
Until then, the proverb speaks best: Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles do not let your heart rejoice, for the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him.
From God’s perspective, the heart of triumph and rejoicing will lose the war on terror. Be careful, America.