Good, Evil, and More Evil
In this world, many of us want to have the choice between good and evil. The best thing is, we think, the good thing. Unfortunately, this fallen world is more broken than we sometimes give it credit for. It has been my Christian experience that many times our choice is between evil and more evil. Sometimes the best thing is the least evil thing.
Osama bin Laden was shot by American military men. Is the death of any person ever purely good? No. Death is the enemy of life. The defeat of death is one of the reasons Christ died and was raised to life again.
In that context, the death of Osama bin Laden was the best thing that could have happened. It was the least evil of all possible evils.
Osama was a human being, a human who was the mastermind behind the slaughter of people he had never met, including his fellow Muslims. He had committed these crimes in the past, and (from all we can gather) he intended to commit these crimes well into the future. If he had not been stopped he would surely have killed more people. Unfortunately, more people may still be killed in his name.
Osama was not just a human being, he was a brand. His brand stands for something, or stood for something. It stood for nihilistic mayhem. The only way for his brand to be ultimately damaged or discredited was for him to die. Even his capture would have led to the expansion of his brand. Perhaps his death will, also. We cannot know all the consequences. I believe that without his death more people would certainly die in his name, with his money, and through his creative planning.
Osama had declared war on a foreign nation, the United States. He had acted in that war. He had drawn first blood, and second and third and …. He had sought this war out. He died fighting in his war, the war that he called for.
Some would like to have seen Osama repent. I think that would have been great. If he had turned himself in, given up his ways and preached peace, that would have been awesome. However, he has had a long time to make that decision. He gave no indication of changing. Does anyone really think that was going to happen? Let’s take repentance off the table as a reasonable possibility.
I would argue that Osama’s death is the best possible scenario, given the circumstances. It was the least evil of all the outcomes. Was it good, in the sense of pure and perfect? No. But compared to all the other things that might have happened, it was for the best.
Some of my Christian friends have been upset by the celebratory outbursts that came when it was revealed that Osama had been killed. I understand that. At the same time, I would challenge them to ask themselves this question: what is the appropriate response to an action which, while not purely good, brings justice and prevents further evil? Is sadness at his death appropriate? Perhaps. But where is our sadness for all the other people who died on May 1st? Why are we not constantly tweeting about the horrors of cancer, crime and car accidents?
I would suggest that joy is a reasonable and fit emotion for a Christian to experience when he sees an evil institution fall. That joy may be wrapped up in anger over what has past. It may be kin to sadness or fear or hurt. It may even be tainted by bloodlust and revenge (certainly not Christian virtues). On this side of heaven, our joy is never pure. I wish it could be, and I'm glad it will be.
When I learned that Osama was dead, I found myself shocked, relieved, and joyful. I also experienced some of the anger that has lived with me since the attack on the U.S.S. Cole and, of course, 9/11. I sat with my wife and children and I cried. I cried for all the victims, for all the fear I experienced on that day almost a decade ago, and for joy for those whom Osama could now never touch. I am glad that he can no longer plot something that may kill my daughters. I’m glad that, should another attack come, at least he won’t have the pleasure of rejoicing over it. Yes, I'm glad he's dead.
Some of my feelings and words about this event come from my anger at what Osama did and how he made me feel. While my anger at Osama is not pure, it is real, it is human, and it may even be a little bit Christian. Perhaps I do hate what is evil while I’m doing my best to cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9)
I would ask my Christian friends to do this: why don’t we experience our emotions and let others experience theirs? Let’s not sin against one another by either attacking or judging one another. Some of the things I said on twitter last night were coming from a place of anger and judgment. Sadly, I was way more judgmental and sinful in my heart than I was on twitter. I’m sorry for that, and I apologize to anyone that I hurt or made to feel judged. I would, and will, apologize to you directly if you will let me know who you are. I actually do want everyone to be free to experience this the way they need to experience it.
Let’s live in this moment. Then, in a few weeks or months, once we have some distance, let’s have a theological conversation about good and evil. Right now, while emotions are high, may not be the best time. In the meantime, let’s pray for one another and for our world. Let’s pray for those who are celebrating and those who are protesting. Let's pray that, for once, violence may not beget more violence. Let’s pray for our own hearts, that we might be useful to the Lord and filled with his love and mercy.
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