You’d think it would be so simple.
You’d think that I would be able to look at a simple formula like “Osama bin Laden killed thousands of Americans + Now American forces have killed Osama bin Laden = Justice has been done” and feel good about it.
I don’t feel good.
In saying that, I’m not saying that I believe that bin Laden should not have been brought to justice. He caused vast amounts of destruction and death through his terrorist activities. It is hard if not impossible to argue that he got other than what he deserved.
If a family member or a friend of mine had been killed in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, I imagine I would feel a very justifiable sense of relief or satisfaction over the death of bin Laden even as I would wrestle with the realization that no amount of retribution can bring back my loved one.
For the sake of the families that were devastated by bin Laden’s attacks, I am grateful that justice has been done.
For the sake of our country that was so viciously attacked by bin Laden’s minions, I am grateful that justice has been done.
As a Christian who tries with God’s help to take seriously not only the witness and words of Jesus Christ but also the very life of Christ that I believe lives in me, I want in my own life to resist and to combat evil in the way of Jesus, a way that he most clearly taught in the Sermon on the Mount and that he most clearly lived out in his death on the cross.
“Offer them the other cheek,” he said.
“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing,” he said.
That is the way of Jesus. That is the way of the kingdom of heaven. That is the way of the Church. Or at least it is supposed to be.
But it is not the way of the geopolitical reality with which nation-states deal; it is naïve and impractical to expect a nation, be it the United States or any other nation, to accept a blow like the one received on 9/11 without striking back.
Perhaps we could expect a nation to respond in such a radically gracious way if a nation could actually be “Christian” but, as I have written elsewhere, I do not believe that is possible.
It is a great mystery to me how Almighty God set in motion the ultimate and for-all-time defeat of all evil and sin through the death of God’s son on the cross – through the ultimate act of passive resistance – but how the only effective response to evil on the international stage seems to be to respond to violence with violence, to pain with pain, and to death with death.
That appears to be a mystery with which I will just have to live.
It is nonetheless one of the reasons I don’t feel good even though I know that justice has been done.
America has done what America had to do; I have no doubts about that. My uneasiness comes from my realization of – even my acceptance of – the way the world is and of the way that nations must behave if they are to survive in this world.
I don’t want to rest in such a realization or in such an acceptance, though; I want to pray toward, to love toward, to work toward and to vote toward a world in which retaliatory responses become less and less necessary because the kinds of actions that produce such responses are less and less carried out.
That means also that I want to pray toward, to love toward, to work toward and to vote toward a world in which we become more and more willing to talk about and to try to do something about the very real problems, differences and injustices that come between us even as we become more and more willing to accept and to build on the common humanity that binds us.
Again, America has done what America had to do. We owe a great debt of thanks to those who work day in and day out to protect us and particularly to those who carried out this act of justice.
But please God, help me; please help me lest I forget that in my life I, who am a follower of Jesus Christ, must think more highly of others than I do myself, that I must seek to serve rather than to be served, that I must care about trying to help the poor more than I care about building wealth, that I must be more interested in being loving than in being right, that I must turn the other cheek rather than retaliate, and that I must love and pray for my enemies.
I do not think that my gratefulness for justice being done to the mass murderer Osama bin Laden is misplaced.
I am also grateful, though, for the warning bell that I hear clanging very loudly in my spirit.
Michael Ruffin is curriculum editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, Georgia.