We live in a complex world where it’s often difficult to know what exactly is deemed as “good” and what might actually be “evil.” Were there ever simpler days, ones where the lines between good and evil were not so blurry? And if so, how did we know what belonged in which camp?
Our world has seen its share of violence over the last hundred years or so. It seems that technology only feeds our propensity toward violent reactions and responses. Our world has advanced in weaponry from the days of guns and knives to that of tanks, missiles, and atomic weapons. Over the last fifty years or so, we have had to reckon with the notion that we could, if we so pleased, destroy the world and most everything in it multiple times over.
And so it begs the question, how do people of faith live in such a world? How do we exist and practice our faith in a world where the law of the land seems to be that might is always right and at the end of the day, strength is best displayed through a powerful, and violent, response?
I awoke on Monday, May 2 to the news of the death of Osama bin Laden. And I have to confess, my first response was something like, “heck yeah! We got him!” Honestly, I’m sure that statement (or something along those lines) resonates with many people. I know it does because my Facebook News Feed (which I check most every morning after a few minutes of morning news) was full of similar reactions. However, as I sifted through the news from Facebook, I happened to notice other reactions as well. Some of my friends were praying for peace. Others were happy and sad at the same time. Would this escalate violence against our country? Would our troops get to come home or would they have to stay in Afghanistan longer? Could this event be both good and bad? Is it okay to celebrate the loss of human life, even when that person committed despicable acts?
It’s a strange irony that such events happen a week or so after we observe Holy Week and celebrate Easter—the ultimate conquering of death and evil in our world. And we’re reminded that we confess to follow a Savior who, in the face of torture, humiliation, and injustice, chose to pray for his enemies. He did not hold their wrongs against them. On the contrary, he loved them in spite of it.
Just in case you’re concerned, I’m not about to try to make a case for pacifism and peace at all costs. The world is much too complex to simply try to offer the other side of a reductionistic argument. The mixed emotions and reactions that people express tell me that an “either/or” analysis of responses to world events would be unjust in truly expressing the depth of confusion and despair in the face of violence around the world.
In a world where violence begets more violence, justice comes in funny shapes and sizes. What is justice for one may not be so for another. And in spite of all of that, how does such justice measure up to justice as God sees it? I can’t help but be reminded that Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Unfortunately, this sounds nice but it doesn’t settle the argument at all over whether we should celebrate a so-called victory wrought by violence or not. On the one hand, there is a sense of justice and vindication felt at the demise of Osama bin Laden. On the other, there is a fear that perpetuating violence will never end violence; it might even increase it. And then there’s that nagging detail about a God who, in the form of Jesus Christ, showed not violence, but forgiveness in the face of hate.
I wish the answers were easy—but they are not. I wish the lines between following God and being a loyal American were more symmetrical—but they are not. And so in these times, the only thing we can do is pray. We must pray for the safety of our soldier putting their lives on the line to defend our national freedom. We must pray for the innocent victims of wars being fought. After all, what we call “foreign lands” is someone else’s backyard. But we must also pray for our enemies. And we must pray for ourselves. The temptation will be great to get swept up by the tides of the sea of violence celebrated as “moral” victories. May we, in these confusing and emotionally-driven days, remember the words of that most powerful prayer, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.”