Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The death of Osama bin Laden

Most all of us have spent the better part of the past ten years trying to re-wire our psychic and spiritual GPS systems after they were blown apart on September 11, 2001. The mix of shock, fear, anger -- and grief, has had a hammerlock on our national psyche for nearly a decade.

That grip has eased somewhat and our emotional tracking devices are in better working order after hearing the news of Osama bin Laden's death. The feelings that have emerged from this news are very different from those of ten years ago. We feel safer. There is a sense of relief -- and the satisfaction that some justice has been served.

And there has been rejoicing. I haven't heard news reports of people singing, "Ding dong, the witch is dead," from the Wizard of Oz, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that people danced and sang it on the streets somewhere. For much of the world, bin Laden has been the embodiment of the wicked witch. And now he is gone.

The sense of safety and relief is understandable -- and human. So is the desire to rejoice -- given the vortex we have been through.

But the rejoicing expressed in the past two days has parallels in the same emotion we all felt as kids watching TV or a movie when the good guys came over the hill and wasted the bad guys. There was satisfaction, yes -- and it was real and raw. But it was not rejoicing. It was vengeance.

Justice is one thing. We need to exact justice. We need to hold people accountable -- which has been the driving concern in the operation that concluded on Sunday. Vengeance is something else. Justice may sometimes involve violence; vengeance is always directed by violence -- of one sort or another. And the desire for vengeance lies close to the surface in everyone.

Jesus understood vengeance. He saw it. He was the recipient of it. And he refused to engage in it -- because he knew that the desire for vengeance can eclipse the challenge of justice. Over and over again Jesus stood up to violence nonviolently. He repeatedly called for justice; and while he may have felt the need for vengeance, he never acted on it.

So -- in the swirl of all our emotions and reactions, and the ongoing national commitment to rooting out the scourge of terrorism, it is helpful -- if not necessary, to hearken to Jesus' commitment to justice. Especially in a world that increasingly tempts us to learn the dance steps of vengeance.