Like many, I watched the news feeds, blogs and Facebook comments swell with emotions of confusion, justification, and relief. And then came the street celebrations, streamers, and robust cheers, and that’s when I felt caught off guard. Mixed emotions of joy and grief are natural, but is rejoicing over the death of a human appropriate? Even a human animated by evil?
In sorting through a Christian response, I found helpful guidance in the thoughtful blog posted by Rev Andrew Zirschky, entitled Bonhoeffer and bin Laden: Why We Can’t Rejoice. In his blog, Andrew reflects on the life and thought of German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. An avowed pacifist, Bonhoeffer found himself embroiled in an assassination plot against Adolf Hitler during WW2. The plot was discovered; he was arrested, and hanged by the Nazi regime.
Rev Zirschky then goes on to comment on Bonhoeffer’s unfinished book, Ethics, in which Bonhoeffer reflected about the use of violence in the face of horrendous evil. Bonhoeffer took the stand that an assassination attempt against Hitler was unrighteous but responsible, sinful and yet the best option available. Bonhoeffer did not rejoice at the prospect of killing. Instead, he mourned the sin behind the evil, admitted the sinfulness of the assassination attempt, and reserved all judgment of such actions for God.
The theology behind his thought comes from Luther, who taught that we are always sinners and justified at the same time. This theology is grounded by a realistic appreciation of the prevalence of sin, which explains, on one hand, why we cry for divine salvation, and, on the other hand, explains why human action is never enough to combat the evil that persists in our world and in our own hearts.
This Lutheran theology has real-life implications. It led Bonhoeffer to pursue the killing of Hitler, but to do so with humility, acceptance of guilt, prayer for God’s grace, and in complete surrender to God as the only judge.
I understand the responsibility to combat evil. But I resonate with Bonhoeffer’s balance between justice and humility and between our need to rely upon God’s grace and to recognize that God is the only worthy judge of our actions. And I did not see those characteristics in the celebration. And that’s why I, along with Rev Zirschky, are
unable to join with those who rejoiced over the death of bin Laden.