Osama bin Laden was killed by an elite group of Navy SEALs and, like many people, my first reaction was "wow." After that, however, things got a bit more complicated as I struggled with my human and patriotic feelings in the context of my faith.
Politically and strategically, the United States achieved an important symbolic victory in the death of bin Laden. I remember well the night of Sept. 11, 2001, when our congregation put aside a previously scheduled event to pray for those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks. Targeting the innocent in the name of a radical political agenda can only be defined as evil.
But we must never end our reflection at the level of the political and strategic. Underlying our vision and our identity is the hope for a world that transcends the expediency of retributive justice. Beyond all that separates and divides us, we must continue to reaffirm that humanity is one.
Jesus said "love your enemy, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you." This way is not a comfortable way, for it presses us beyond our natural instincts of vengeance and toward a higher ethical standard more in tune with the prophet Isaiah's vision of a world where "nations shall turn swords into plows and learn war no more."
We are not there yet. But I am not content to let bin Laden's death be the final word. It is far too easy for the understandable desire for justice to morph into hate, vindictiveness and self-righteousness — the very things that have led others to acts of terror and atrocity.
In 1939, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote that "men are not completely blinded by self interest or lost in the maze of historical relativity. What always remains with them is not some uncorrupted bit of reason, which gives them universally valid standards of justice. What remains with them is something higher — namely, the law of love."
It is my prayer that we not lose sight of that higher law. It is my hope that communities of faith will not shy away from the sometimes inconvenient and often unpopular insistence that politics and strategies not be allowed to have the final word as we struggle to live lives of relevance and hope in an imperfect world.