The Common Good

When the Wicked Perish

If I had been in a baseball stadium on Sunday night, I would have been chanting "USA! USA!" My first reaction when I read the news in the minutes leading up to the President's announcement was that of elation. The man who had masterminded the slaughter of thousands could never hurt anyone again. For that, I was and am happy.

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By the time the President formally made the announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed, I was trying to sort out many more feelings. What I was feeling wasn't simple, and I thought back to my senior year in high school, when I first heard the name Osama bin Laden.

I remember the jammed phone lines. One of my friends was going to school in Manhattan. I wasn't sure exactly how close his college was to the Twin Towers, but I was worried when I couldn't get through to him. I remember how hard it was to accept that it wasn't all just an accident; how angry I got when I realized this group had intentionally targeted civilians; how scared I felt when I realized that no place and no one was truly safe from another attack.

Soon, we were going into Afghanistan, and the next year, Iraq. When I was a kid a Purple Heart was something my grandfather and elderly people in nursing homes had. The human toll of war was long ago and far away. While I was applying for college, friends were signing up for the armed forces. Our country was attacked and they wanted to serve. By the summer of 2002, they were off to basic training. Within a few years, Purple Hearts were things my grandfather and my friends had in common. Osama bin Laden killed people, and now many more were dying in pursuit of him.

By the end of the president's announcement, I was sad. I hurt for those who had died in those senseless attacks 10 years ago, for the American's who were killed during combat, for the innocent Iraqis and Afghans who had suffered and died. I felt sorrow that the world was such a broken place, that we hadn't been able to find a better way. I was angry because I thought that maybe if a different choice had been made, or if different actions had been taken, maybe fewer people would have perished.

I felt conflicted. More than one impulse flowed inside me at the same time. I read Proverbs 11:10 that says, "When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices; and when the wicked perish, there is jubilation." I read Proverbs 24:17, "Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble." I felt one naturally and I felt admonished by the other.

At first I thought, I was just confused, but now I think my divided response is, if not the right response, one that makes a lot of sense. Osama bin Laden, a twisted man who did many evil things, will never kill again, and for that I rejoice. It's not that he was killed, it was that he will never kill again that makes me happy. But, the fact that Bin Laden is gone doesn't mean that the evil he promoted is finished. It doesn't mean that lives weren't senselessly ended over the past 10 years. It doesn't mean that more lives won't be lost that shouldn't be. It doesn't mean that we can declare victory over the sin and violence that infects us all.

Death is what Christ conquered on Easter morning. Death is never an unqualified good thing. It is a tragic testament to how the deeply world is broken that we ever breathe easier because of the death of another. And yet this week many of us do. I don't believe these mixed feelings come from theological error, but from the complexity of the human condition.

While our feelings might be conflicted, I hope our resolve is not. All of us must learn from the mistakes of the past and work together for a more peaceful future -- a future in which it becomes more and more rare to have feelings of joy at the death of the wicked.

Tim King is communications manager and special assistant to the CEO at Sojourners. Follow Tim on Twitter @TMKing.

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