Can good come of bin Laden’s death?

Much is possible.

Responsible for the death of thousands both here and abroad, bin Laden was committed to further death and terror with unflinching tenacity. His hatred spread like cancer in hearts and homes around the globe, energizing new communities to equal violence. We are, of course better off without such hate and the leader who propagates it. Clearly our government is quite aware of the possibility his death may insight more hatred, and as one Texas ethicist said, “if we think the killing of Osama bin Laden will end the hate we are dead wrong.” If, however, there is less hate today than before his death, than yes, good is possible.

For many of us, the death of our loved ones didn’t just bring an end to something special. It also created in its place hatred, bitterness, vengeance and grief, the depths of which we didn’t know we were capable of. Perfectly natural, we didn’t choose these feelings any more than the color of our skin. But over the years we may have befriended them, and nurtured them, allowing these internal enemies to steal more and more freedom from us. We channeled our hate-filled grief into an insatiable quest for something we called justice.

26 days after 9/11 this quest caused us to invade Afghanistan to kill this man. One additional war, hundreds of billions of dollars, one economic collapse, and hundreds of thousands of lives later we finally accomplished that goal. Justice, of a sort, has been served. But what of the untold pain and confusion of our returning soldiers, struggling to reconnect with a life they no longer know how to live? What about the families who lost husbands and daddies, moms and wives fighting for the cause? What about civilian casualties in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and other countries? What about the political chaos caused by our presence in the region? Can good come from bin Laden’s death? Yes, if with his death comes the death of the war on terror.

But let’s keep in mind we humans aren’t wired to find much solace in the form of justice experienced Sunday night. While his killings often created hatred, it is not a given that his own killing will release us from it. Indeed, perhaps the opposite is true. It was painful to watch scenes of rampant celebration outside the White House when news broke of his death. The Christian theory of Just War would never allow for the celebration of another human being’s death as if it were a trophy kill on par with a great hunting expedition. No, just war in the Christian tradition sees violence in war as a necessary evil, demanding a period of cleansing and repentance. The ancient church withheld communion for a period of three years from those returning from war.

Will good come of his death? Only if there is less hate today than there was before his death. And hate, bitterness, and grief are hard ghosts to slay. As Toni Morrison’s stunning work Beloved reminds us, we may try to turn our back on our past, but we can never leave it behind. Our ghosts will devour us, unless we wrestle them head on. I think this is what one Christian author of Scripture meant when he talked about being controlled by unseen forces inside him. These ghosts, he says, “make you obey their passions (Romans 6:12).” He goes on to confess “I do not understand my own actions; for I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate (Romans 7:15).” Wrapped up in grief and anger, both personally and as a nation, we’re burning resources to address our pain, sometimes in dysfunctional ways, and finding ourselves even more locked up.

But Paul’s response to the ghosts was different. Consistent throughout, he says we need to deal head on with our anger and malice and “put them to death (Romans 6 & Colossians 3:5).” This bears itself out for many who await the execution of the murderer of family members, who end up finding little or no peace for themselves after it is finished. We must do the hard work of replacing our bitterness, and not think it will magically vanish along with bin Laden. It will not. As the website and testimonies for Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation says, “Reconciliation means accepting you cannot undo the murder, but you can decide how you want to live afterwards.”

How we choose to live afterwards, collectively and as individuals, is where the good will come. This choice to overcome evil happens not in the valleys of Pakistan a world away or in the Oval Office. It happens on the battlefield of our hearts, in our homes and the pews of our churches. I invite you to join me in praying that good will come of this; that the hatred of our enemies will be drained and not refueled; that our insatiable war on terror be brought to a close; that our hearts be filled with healing and hope that comes only through resting in God.

Good can come when we decide to be free of our anger.
Good can come when we find freedom from our self-made prisons of hatred.
Good can come when we put to death our malice and decide to live, truly live.
Good can come when we open ourselves to the peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding.

Can good come of bin Laden’s death?
Only you can decide.

Originally posted on Marty’s Houston Chronicle blog, The Peace Pastor.