I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news about Osama Bin Laden’s death. Odds are you do too. Ironically, I was reading President Bush’s book Decisions Points, finishing up the chapter detailing 9/11. Another thing I remember is that Twitter blew up like a Michael Bay movie that night. People were generally excited. Many rejoiced that the famed terrorist leader was now dead. Friends even speculated about Chuck Norris’ involvement.
Through the clutter of my timeline I began to see some tweets trickling in from a few Christians I follow. They said things like, “I refuse to rejoice in another human’s death” and “Jesus wouldn’t be so excited right now.” I didn’t dwell on the few dissenters long, writing them off as Christian hipsters trying to be different. After seeing the new film Zero Dark Thirty, their statements came back to me as I began to critically think about the ideas they presented. First let’s talk about the film.
I know some people get a little nervous when they read movie reviews, worrying it might spoil the film. You don’t have to be so cautious this time. I’m pretty sure even I can’t spoil the ending of Zero Dark Thirty for you. We all know what happens: ‘Merica gets Bin Laden.
Thirty follows Maya (Jessica Chastain in a Golden Globe winning performance), a relentless CIA agent who makes it her personal mission to kill the most infamous terrorist leader in the world. The first two hours of the film methodically pieces together the search for Bin Laden and then comes together in an incredible climax that’s worth the price of admission alone. The great value of the movie though, comes in it’s fair treatment of the subject. Director Kathryn Bigelow, who won an Academy Award for Hurt Locker, resists the urge to pronounce judgement on the government’s actions to track down Bin Laden. She leaves that decision up to the audience. This is refreshing considering how easy it would have been to turn this story into a propaganda piece. Bigelow, however, doesn’t shy away from the dark content of the story, giving the viewers a great deal to digest.
Less than five minutes into the film, the audience is introduced to a torture scene involving an Al-Qaeda agent. Personally, I don’t know why the CIA didn’t just send in Oprah. She wouldn’t have gotten him to confess within hours. Scenes like these, including the death of Bin Laden, begs the question once more. How should Christians respond to this event? Should we crank up “We are the Champions” or mellow out to “Everybody Hurts”?
The apostle Paul, who once made it his goal to hunt down Christians, sheds some light on the issue for us:
2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Rom. 13:2-4, ESV)
So in a sense, Captain America isn’t the first avenger, the government is. Paul sends out a message to those who would try to usurp the government’s authority; a message that applies directly to Bin Laden. Rulers don’t possess a sword, or a team of Navy Seals, for nothing.
Something else we need to keep in mind is that Rome was the current government Paul mentions here. Morally decadent Rome. Pagan Rome. It makes sense to conclude then that it really doesn’t matter if the government is perfect or not. The obligation to obey them doesn’t dissipate with their secular morality.
Taking Paul’s words into account, it becomes apparent that Bin Laden’s death was a justifiable act of the government on a terrorist who committed, and was still committing, heinous crimes against humanity. So what should our response be when the state decides to yield the sword? When we watch Zero Dark Thirty, should we walk out celebrating or sulking away in depression?
I think there are two very important verses we need to keep in mind.
Proverbs 11:10 – “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness.”
Ezekiel 18:23 – “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”
In the end, Christians must be an example of balance. In one sense there is nothing wrong with rejoicing when an evil person is killed. Our inner being cries out for justice and when we see Bin Laden get shot in Zero Dark Thirty, we can celebrate. On the other hand, followers of Jesus know more than anyone that we too deserve punishment. We’ve all sinned against God. We’ve all spit in his face and the faces of people he cares about. If it wasn’t for Jesus, we would face eternal death for all the things that we’ve done wrong. So we also cringe a little, knowing that we were spared when we shouldn’t have been.
Thinking back to the tweets I saw on the night of Bin Laden’s death, I realize that it’s important for all of us to be understanding of each other. Some people rejoiced and that’s okay. Some didn’t, and that’s okay too. While watching Zero Dark Thirty, I did both.