The headlines read, “Usama bin Laden is dead!” My initial thought was, “Well, good. It’s about time.” Did I want to shout in celebratory glee, or run around and scream my head off, or pump my fist in the air while puffing my chest in a taunting manner? No.
This all began late on Sunday evening after a very long day of church services and meetings. I was settling in with a good book in the living room, listening to some light classical music when my state of reverie was interrupted with a text message from my sister, Joy, which read, “Got bin Laden.” I thought, “Does she mean we’ve finally tracked down this murdering thug?” I was really unwilling to give up my quiet evening, but I decided to turn on the TV just to make sure.
Just like many of you, I sat and watched the news for the next three hours or so, before calling it a night. Split-screen camera shots showed steadily growing crowds outside the White House and in downtown Manhattan at Ground Zero and New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Periodically there would be other shots of military academy students running around waving American flags in jubilation to the extreme.
As I watched this display of joyous celebration over the death of an arch enemy of the United States, a man who had declared war on our nation and its people not once, but twice, I can certainly sympathize with those who choose to express their exuberance in so demonstrable a manner. But I must sound a word of caution at this point.
For those who may not know my background, I spent 34 years in the military: nine years as a Marine (Vietnam Vet), and 25 in the Navy as a chaplain (Iraq War Vet). I have never lost a night’s sleep over the death of any person who wishes to do me and my family harm. It is because I love my country that I willingly spent those years in its service. If I could jump back forty years, I’d do it all over again. So please, do not even think I’m a bleeding heart. That is one thing I am not!
So, as I watched the TV celebrants the other night, I reflected back on 9-11 when we were subjected to similarly distasteful TV images. Only then it was Muslims in the Middle East dancing and shouting in the streets over the militants’ success in toppling the Twin Towers and striking a blow at the Pentagon. We were appalled as even children were gleefully jumping up and down before the cameras. Collectively we wondered, “What sort of people are these who would celebrate at such a horrific act of carnage? And is this what their religion encourages?”
Some will be quick to point out differences between the two events, and I admit there are some. However, this does not justify such a celebratory atmosphere. A passage of Scripture came to my mind as I watched the endless news stream. Proverbs 24:17-18, says, “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him.” Those, my friends, are words to seriously consider.
In my study of the Bible, I cannot escape the fact that there is a very real hell for those who do evil, despite the recent cover story to the contrary in Time Magazine, “What If There’s No Hell?” April 25, 2011. Jesus, in one of his parables, tells about a man who died and found himself in hell “in torment.” The tormented man described his own condition as being “in agony in this fire.” There is no doubt according to the Scriptures that Usama bin Laden is right there, having taken up permanent residence as of last Sunday. However, I cannot escape thinking of the horror of such a place where there is no relief for all of eternity.
We do well to remember that God made us to enjoy an eternal relationship with him; not separated from him. We were not lovingly created by the Lord and designed in his image and likeness only to be idly and unceremoniously dispatched into the crackling fires of hell. What potential resides in each one of us that sadly goes unfulfilled when we are not living in that relationship? What good might Usama bin Laden have been able to accomplish to the glory of God had his heart been changed through an encounter with Jesus? We’ll never know because this reprehensible man chose a life of evil, ultimately, permanently securing his fate.
Though we are rid of this man’s nefariously wicked life and deeds, allowing us all to breathe a sigh of relief, Usama is a sad testament to the evil which men can do, emphatically emphasizing the need we all have for the Savior.