The killing of bin Laden: A Time for Rejoicing?

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.



About chris breuninger

I love life, my family, and Jesus. I enjoy live music, rigorous exercise, thoughtful movies, and strong coffee. I study scripture, wine, and people. I get frustrated with narrow minds, Christian stereotypes, and gardening. My vocation is pastor, but I’m hesitant to admit that, and I’m happy when people are surprised by that.
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4 Responses to The killing of bin Laden: A Time for Rejoicing?

  1. Joan says:

    When I first heard the news, I had mixed emotions as well. As we face evil in this world, we can become fearful and discouraged, but the real tragedy is a soul not saved. I am sobered at Osama’s death for his eternal fate is nothing to be celebrated. A friend of mine just posted the following verse on Facebook. “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11).

  2. Jay Hufford says:

    I too share the same sense of discomfort. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Reid says:

    Excellent summary Chris. You have always found brilliant ways to explain the truth and be direct at that. Blessings my friend, I couldn’t agree more. Speaking of Bonhoeffer, I was a chaplain for Berton Nelson, NPTS resident Bonhoeffer world scholar when Berton died as I was on call with him. Sad day but I think of Bonhoeffer often through Nelson’s eyes.

  4. Douglas Richardson says:

    I found myself thinking about this very thing this morning. I thought this man is most likely in hell at this moment…not a thought that made me happy at any level…even in the face of his campaign of hate he so ardently waged while he was alive. The Father doesn’t rejoice in the death of someone who doesn’t know Him…why would I rejoice? Thanks for poking around in our heart attitudes!

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