Relief or Revelry?

At 11:28 last night I heard the news that Osama Bin Laden was dead. Minutes later I was listening to a live feed from President Obama as he gave brief details confirming the news that Osama had been found and killed in a gun battle in a large compound in the city of Abbotabad, Pakistan. Abbotabad is not far from the capital of Islamabad and, like many other places in Pakistan, figures significantly into my past. My sister-in-law grew up a few miles from the city, a best friend from childhood often invited me to spend weekends at her home in Abbotabad, and our equivalent of ‘Junior Prom’ was held in a local hotel. At the time it was a lovely cantonment city with wide tree-lined streets and a feel of modernity as compared to some of the more remote locations in Pakistan.

News of his capture and demise brought me back to the hours following 9/11 when my daughter and I sat in a town outside of Boston watching television, praying that the day’s events hadn’t been orchestrated by Muslim extremists, only to discover moments after that Al Qaeda was claiming responsibility and the figure of Osama Bin Laden rose to world-wide notoriety. And it’s been a long road since then for victims of 9/11, victims of wars, moms and dads of victims, and tired citizens. One of my colleagues from a previous job lost her daughter on 9/11 – she was engaged to be married and had visited her parents, returning to her fiancée in New York that morning. My sense is that she is experiencing deep relief and perhaps closure as she takes in the news of last night.

Perhaps my personal feelings most resemble those I felt earlier in the evening while in a theater watching Hanna – a movie released only a couple of weeks ago. There are a couple of truly evil people in the movie and as I watched their ruthless actions and disregard for human life I wanted them dead. I felt relief when they died and could no longer hunt for a teenager who, seemingly through no will of her own, was trained to kill. I felt relief and satisfaction for justice served. In real life as I watched the news I was well aware that while a man, significant in orchestrating tragic events and becoming the face of evil, was now dead the problem of evil remained. Later as I watched reactions through pictures and video I was struck that there is a difference between relief and revelry, something of the frat party variety. Revelry makes this seem like cheap entertainment of the B-movie genre as opposed to a real act in a real world with real victims. Revelry seems to spit in the face of a creator God – not willing that any should perish. Relief as in pain taken away and distress relieved, particularly for those directly affected seems right and proper. And when I drill a little deeper, my relief is colored with sadness of lives wasted.

So relief or revelry? What’s right? A friend of mine dug deeper than I this morning and put her feelings into these words: “Pleased that justice is done. But it disturbs me to see rejoicing in the streets over the death of human life. How can we condemn others for rejoicing in the streets over death of Americans if we’re doing the same thing? She goes on to quote this: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?…..For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” Ezekiel 18:23, 32