Should we rejoice? Inevitably, there is some
rejoicing as an instant reaction. I notice that in the live update section of the BBC reports on the news one American counselled those of us who were unhappy to witness rejoicing on US streets as simply ‘visceral’. But the Lord does not rejoice in the death of the wicked. If (as we assume) bin Laden was unrepentant, he missed the grace of God. That is no reason for joy. To those who chant, “USA! USA!” can I just say, this is not the Olympics or the World Cup.
On the other hand, when it is a case of divine vengeance against the oppressors of the suffering (especially martyrs for Christ – but that can hardly be said here), you end up with a text like Revelation 6:10:
They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”
Even if we take bin Laden’s death that way, it is difficult to put ourselves entirely on the side of the righteous. Much as I find his cause repulsive, it is hard to describe ourselves in the West as just. Take the way the Scriptures use Sodom and Gomorrah as a paradigm of sin – a variety of sin, please note – and read Ezekiel 16:49:
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.
Does that not sound uncomfortably like us? ‘Arrogant, overfed and unconcerned’? Not helping the poor and needy – how many times have I heard since the savage cuts in Government spending here the idea that we should still spend on our own but not on those in developing nations? Too often, I’m afraid. Whatever judgment we Christians might believe God would have for Osama bin Laden, we should be careful and sober in what we claim for our own culture.
So one thing that pleases me is the sober way I witnessed President Obama announce the news. It was in stark contrast to the “We got him!” triumphalism when American forces captured Saddam Hussein. (Although I have to say I only saw a very brief clip this morning before going out on a family outing for the bank holiday – Angela Shier-Jones reports a rather different tone from the longer broadcast she saw.) Furthermore, he and other Western politicians are
right to be wary of reprisals, however much it might be true as Frank Gardner, the BBC’s security expert said on live television this morning, that Al Qaeda is weaker than it used to be.
Why? Because – to harp on a theme from my sabbatical reading two years ago – Al Qaeda is a ‘starfish movement’, not a ‘spider movement’. It does not have a centralised hierarchical command that can be destroyed; it is an organisation with distributed values and the freedom for individual cells to act on their own in support of the cause.
Therefore, we have an urgent need for vigilance. The risk of revenge attacks is clearly high, and that means not only a concern for security but also a concern that governments do not use such a climate for their own benefit by upgrading the surveillance society generally. A need for vigilance prompts Christians to prayer.
That same vigilance may well be something we want to extend to our Muslim neighbours. This is not to suggest I think all roads lead to God – I don’t – but a simple virtue of Christian neighbourliness and hospitality should lead us to look out for many of them, who could be subject to local hostilities. This might be a good time to remember the recent kindness of Muslims to Christians in Egypt, when some stood guard on Coptic church buildings at their Christmas celebrations, to deter further attacks.