Osama is Dead. Now What Should I Feel?

Source: OrthodoxyToday.org

Last night, like most of the world, I was captivated by the announcement that the President of the United States would be making a statement at 10:30 p.m. As I Tweeted this information, I added the line that this could not be good. Presidents do not often come on at 10:30 on a Sunday night to announce good news. So, like the rest of the world, I waited and watched the social media to try and find out what was going on. I will add a side note here that I almost went to bed!

News started to be leaked and then confirmed that the USA had killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and that they were working on identification. This was a military operation and no U.S. military personnel were harmed in this operation. I will admit, I, like many others in the U.S. and around the world, rejoiced at this news. Rejoiced at the news that bin Laden was dead and the news that no Americans were hurt or killed in the operation.

I watched as Twitter and Facebook lit up with news and reactions. (The interesting thing is everything went quiet as POTUS began speaking.) People were thanking God and military that justice had been served. But what are we Christians to make of all of this? How are we supposed to react and feel about all of this? Some of the folks I follow on Twitter started sending out Tweets that made it sound like them came from Fortune Cookies. (I have never liked using one passage of Scripture to try and prove a point.) But it did get me thinking, and thinking. I went to bed and listened to the news coverage on the BBC World Service and eventually drifted off to sleep.

So in the light of day I had to ask myself this question: How do we, as Christians, balance our relief that the mastermind behind so much killing is dead and the fact that a human life, created in the image and likeness of God, has perished? My Orthodox Christianity teaches that God does not rejoice when one of His children is lost. One of the folks on Twitter said that we Christians should feel sorrow that we did not do enough to convert him to Christianity. Well, I will not go that far but I do understand the sentiment. I also had to remind myself that it is not our job to judge — that is and should be left to God. Again, my Orthodox faith teaches that we are all sinners and we will all be judged for our actions.

I have said this before: Each and every human has been created in the image and likeness of God. Because of our creation in that image and likeness, we are not born evil. Evil is something we learn and is a byproduct of the fallen nature of humanity. Our actions are sinful and evil but humanity is not evil. As an Orthodox Christian I also believe in the power of confession and reconciliation. One of the hardest concepts for some people to come to terms with is the fact that if we are truly sorry and repentant; God will forgive all of our sins no matter how horrible. What an amazing and loving God we have!

The difficulty is in rejoicing over the situation at hand. Are we rejoicing because a man is dead or are we rejoicing because justice has been accomplished? I will say that if we are rejoicing because a man is dead then our rejoicing is misplaced. As Christians we should never rejoice at someone’s death, especially a death of one who is lost. Justice being served, however, is a different story.

We can rejoice that justice has been served for the thousands of people who were murdered because of the actions of this one man. I remember the anger I felt watching the events of Sept. 11 and how I wanted revenge, how I wanted those responsible to pay. It was a very dark day spiritually for many, many people, including myself. I will also confess that I am not sure how I felt last night when I heard the news, but it felt wrong that I was happy. A man was dead and I was happy. This was not right! If we give in to this kind of retribution then we are no better than those who committed the act. If we rejoice because this man is dead, then spiritually a small part of us has died as well.

During the Divine Liturgy we pray for those who love us and those who hate us. Praying for people who love us is easy, praying for those who hate us is difficult, if not downright impossible, but we have to do it. We are called to pray for every person not just the ones we like.

This past week we remembered the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. One of the most remarkable events took place whilst Jesus was on the Cross. He asked His Father to forgive those who had done this to Him! Think about it: Hanging on the Cross, Jesus asked God to forgive those who killed him. What an example He leaves for us. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

I am reminded of a Scripture passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew, “You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil … love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:38-39, 44). Hard words to hear but it is good for us to be reminded of them from time to time.

So what is a Christian to do? How are we to respond to this? Well, first, as with anything, we need to pray. We need to pray for all those who have lost their lives the last few days and we need to pray for those who put their lives on the line. The killing of this man will not be welcome news to many people and our troops are in harm’s way. We need to keep all of this in the proper perspective, be happy that justice has been done but we cannot and should not rejoice in the death of anyone. If we truly respect human life, then all life is sacred, not just the ones we like. We also need to pray that we can make some sense of all of this.

So is it possible to be happy and sad at the same time? I believe it is. The very human emotion I was feeling last night was joy that he was dead. The very Christian emotion I am feeling today in the light of day is one of sadness that a life is lost and a feeling of relief that the one who brought terror to so many has been brought to justice. The rest of what I am feeling will just have to work itself out.

Fr. Peter-Michael Prebble is an Orthodox priest in the Romanian Orthodox Diocese of America.

Read the entire article on the Huffington Post website (new window will open). Reprinted with permission.

V. Rev. Fr. Peter-Michael Preble is the Pastor of St. Michael’s Orthodox Christian Church in Southbridge, Massachusetts and the host of the Shepherd of Souls syndicated radio program. Visit Fr. Peter’s blog.


  1. Michael Bauman :

    Having viewed the depths of evil that are possible within my own soul, it is not difficult for me to feel sorrow that Bin Laden died surrounded and consumed by that evil, but he choose that evil, lived it, propagated it and died because of it. Sometimes, the sword must be used to stop the evil. This was one of them.

    Unfortuantely, it wil change little in our confrontation with the evil of the modern jihad. We still have to conquer the evil in our own heart by accepting the love of Jesus Christ.

  2. George Michalopulos :

    The violent death of Bin Laden pains me to the extent as that of other men of his ilk. Yes, he was made in the image of God like all of us, but he chose evil. Sometimes we have to accept that there are agressors in the world and that we “should not even shed a tear as they walk to the gibbet.” As for me, no joy at his end but precious little sorrow as well.

  3. cynthia curran :

    I was almost served on the Shawna Forde trial in Tucson Arizona. She got the death penality which is still rare for a woman. Anyways, seeing her in person I really didn’t want her to get the death penality. As for Bin Laden, he was evil but it remains me of the killing of Julius Caesar, another Tyrant but probably contributed more to civilzation than Bin Laden, the calendar for example. Still how many thought that Julius Caesar killing was that pleasant and it still didn’t prevent Rome from becoming an autocratic system and it didn’t return the Republic.

  4. I think that the reason of rejoicing is the *relief* that at least one mass murderer will no longer make more victims.

  5. Instead of viewing Osama bin Laden’s death from a happy or sad perspective, we should probably view it as an event that will have a significant positive impact on the future of humanity. Bin Laden’s death will undoubtedly decrease the amount of terrorism that will occur throughout the world, because he planned and paid for much of the terrorism that occurred throughout the world during the past decade. I doubt that the world will encounter another terrorist fanatic leader with the megalo-hatred for non-Muslims possessed by Osama bin Laden.

  6. Ivan Vasiliev :

    Christ is Risen!

    I am glad that he can do no more evil and that his evil organization may be hindered by his death. I cannot rejoice in his death, though. Like Father Peter, I believe that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. I am also troubled that an innocent woman was killed when she was forced to be a human shield–a last evil act by an evil man. Yes, relief that he is gone—I still see the images of people jumping from the World Trade Center when I think of 9/11. And sadness that he never repented. But joy? No.

  7. Indeed, He is risen!

    Ivan, brother, I am with you. There is reason to rejoice that Bin Laden can no longer himself perpetrate evil and that loss of life during the event was minimized. Other than limiting the potential for further evil, though, “justice” of this nature is something less, I think, than the justice God desires, and something less than would bring full healing to families of the victims. I wrote somewhere else that I think the only real victory would have been full repentance on the part of Bin Laden. “God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather desires that he turn from his wickedness and live.”

  8. The notion that shooting a bunch of mostly subdued bad guys (it now appears only one person actually fought back) and a couple of women (not to mention summarily executing Bin Laden (we now know he was unarmed) somehow equates to Christian justice is a bizarre mis-appraisal of the evangel indeed. This is a human form of justice in a fallen world, not the justice of the Kingdom of Heaven. Not two weeks ago some children were killed by NATO bombs in the attempt to get “justice” upon a dictator’s son. This should remind Christians that in a fallen world enslaved to dark powers there is never any real justice and prompt us to pray for the Kingdom to come where the light and fiery presence of God allows no dark corner for evil to exist any more. The killing of Bin Laden is merely another link in a long chain of violence.

    My recommendation to Fr. Peter would be to read Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite, which does a great job (if you can work your way through a very complex reading) of differentiating Christian peace from worldly violence. His article seems to indicate that he isn’t aware of the difference.

    • Scott Pennington :


      God is just fine with violence, given the right circumstances. Were He not, we would have to conclude the Bible is completely false, New and Old Testaments. We’ve had this discussion before and the pacifists didn’t fare too well.

      I don’t have a problem with summarily killing Bin Laden. He openly admitted to planning the 9/11 attacks in his released videotapes and others captured during raids. No doubt justice, human and divine, was done. How anyone chooses to feel about it is their own affair. Personally, I don’t feel anyway at all about it. I was surprised to hear he’d been killed. The kind of surprise you might feel at any unexpected event. I also experienced a kind of gratefulness that at least he was no longer plotting against us. But apart from that, there was no particular joy (not that there would be anything wrong with that). He’s one man. Zawahiri was the brains on much of this stuff. I’m sure they all planned for this contingency and have arranged for funds to be retrieved by whomever will take charge next.

      However, it was a mistake to kill him unless he was resisting in a manner which would have threatened the safety of the soldiers if they had tried to take him alive.

      The better course would have been to capture him alive, interrogate him for however long it took to extract as much information about al-Qaida and its operations as possible, by any effective means, and then shoot him and dispose of the body- – all under the radar and without any press knowledge at all.

      Thereby you would maximize the situation in every respect. First, you don’t create a martyr. People might surmise he’s dead after some time, but you don’t have the spectacle we have now with enraged masses and vows of revenge. Second, you have the opportunity to extract every ounce of information bin Laden knows about. Who knows? Some other operation on par with 9/11 might have been in the works which he contrived and/or funded. Sadly (and if there is a reason to be sad about anything, it’s this), that information may have died with him. Third, you still get him dead and you avoid a civilian trial or a Gitmo situation.

  9. Michael Bauman :

    Scott–we are 100% in agreement on this one. I’ve never understood the pacificst option except as a personal calling. I am firmly of the persuasion that a Christian can serve with honor and righteousness in the military and in war. I take great umbrage at the priests who leave out the petition for victory in the Great Litany and simply pray for the soldiers. Sometimes evil has to be stopped with physical force.

    Granted that there is no such thing as a totally just execution of any war and it is always problematic. It takes great courage, discernment and discipline for a Christian to serve in the military (when all of the political explative deleted is factored in). The difficulty for the rest of us lies in discerning the motives and necessity for any particular military excursion and having the politcal power necessary for our discernment to make any difference in the out come.

    Most elected politicians are emotionally and politically unable to follow the course you outline. IMAO Bush tried to to some extent and suffered politically becasue of it (helped Obama get elected). Obama knows this and is simply going to take every bit of political advantage he can possibly get out of it. That demeans the soldiers, Bin Laden and the American people, but Obama doesn’t care.

    Also, we will never know with any certainity what happened in the compound there have been so many stories, retractions, clarifications and stupidities. The current administration may have gotten Bin Laden, but the manner in which they have handled the whole thing has been like the Keystone Cops.

    • Spot on. Of course, it has always irritated me a bit that we require spotless (i.s., “totally just”) execution in one of the most distressing, chaotic aspects of human existence (war), but are more than willing to give ourselves a complete pass on the typically shabby, comprised manner in which we carry out the commands of God in daily life. If we take more care in daily things, I suspect that we will be better able to execute well during strife. (Or, as Bruce Lee – I think – said: you fight the way you train. My addendum would be: “only worse.” Under stress our form is almost always worse. So, yes, if we “train” ourselves to be attentive to God in daily things, we might – just maybe – be better able to follow Him well when in distress.)

  10. Scott,

    I have to laugh at your warning not to argue with you because I might lose. The pacifists didn’t fare well so don’t even try it right? You have to be kidding?

    At no point did I advocate for pacifism so please stop jumping to conclusions. I am the farthest thing from a pacifist, but there is a difference from saying that God interacts in a fallen world and it is his nature to be part of a fallen world like some Greek gods that are merely anthropomorphic recreations of more powerful humans. The issue being discussed here was never “should Christians do violence or support violence in some circumstances.” The question was “was justice done when this man was executed.” My assertion was that justice according to the ethic of the Kingdom of Heaven, where enemies are forgiven and we “resist not the evil man” was not done. I think some of you think God is so weak he will have to drum up an army to defeat evil in the end rather than making himself manifest in an instant. And, once again, this points to a confusion with what is done in a fallen world and what is the nature of a Trinitarian God of love.

    For the next exercise in justifications of the US government’s actions by Christians why don’t you make a case for executing a father in front of a 12 year old girl (which we now know happened). Or was justice served when Ghadaffi’s grandchildren were recently killed in bombings? You can’t just focus on the positives when deciding where justice is being served militarily. And finally, if Justice can be achieved by force of arms then why didn’t Jesus raise up an Army and be an earthly Messiah for Israel?

    You guys should be Christians first and Neo-Cons second or preferably not at all. You seem to see a pacifist behind every corner (and by the way have you ever listened to Metropolitan Jonah on war because you would be greatly disturbed at your current rate) the moment anyone suggests anything other than remaning a country enslaved to its military industrial complex (a term coined by a Republican) economy you start throwing out accusations of pacifism (and probably holding a lack of patriotism in reserve).

    • Scott Pennington :

      “I have to laugh at your warning not to argue with you because I might lose.”

      I didn’t write that. You’re perfectly free to argue with me. It’s what Tiggers do best.

      I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a “necessary evil”, so the dichotomy you draw between “Kingdom ethics” and worldly ethics does not exist for me. If I believed that killing, in and of itself, was evil, I would be a pacifist.

      Jesus spoke of civil relations, not relations in time of war. Nor was he speaking about criminal punishment. You may recall that the very same God who became incarnate in Christ ordered quite a lot of bloodshed in the Old Testament. Morever, there is considerable violent imagery in the Book of Revelation.

      You have to look at scripture in context. St. Paul had no problem at all with the government wielding the sword. Christ Himself (right after the Last Supper, according to St. Luke’s Gospel) told his followers to obtain swords, and to sell other possessions if they didn’t have the money to do so.

      Now, of course, He never advocated the violent expansion of the faith. But there is too much in the New Testament that simply doesn’t make sense if there is a blanket rejection of violence. Bear in mind, His mission was to come, teach and preach, heal and perform miracles, and die for the sins of humanity and be resurrected. You don’t need an army for that. Once a fellow named Marcion taught that our God was only love. He had to reject the entire Old Testament as the work of a demon called Demiurge. He also had to discard most of the New Testament, keeping only redacted versions of St. Luke and some of St. Paul’s letters. It’s not that you can’t find passages in the New Testament to support pacifism, it’s that you can find others that assume that violence can be used for good. This indicates that the former should not be taken as blanket condemnations of violence.

      Now, I will grant that there is a way of perfection and a way of living in the world. Canon law prohibits clergy from shedding blood. And of course, to do so is unthinkable for a monk. However, eating meat or having sexual relations is also prohibited for monks. Neither of those are evil per se.

      I’ve not been accused of being a neo-Con for quite some time. I did favor the war in Iraq; however, I believed that the correct way to proceed was to go in, decapitate the government, replace it with people we could deal with (and arm them well enough to control the country, but not so well that we couldn’t rout them if necessary), and then retreat to military bases strategically located around the oil wells. Bush’s prior remarks against nation building turned out to be a lightly held conviction on his part. I doubt I would support another such excursion.

      Personally, as of this moment, I think we should withdraw from Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Libya is probably the worst of all. We have no national interest there at all and it is not worth the risking, much less sacrifice, of one American life. It is truly a fool’s errand.

      “I think some of you think God is so weak he will have to drum up an army to defeat evil in the end rather than making himself manifest in an instant. And, once again, this points to a confusion with what is done in a fallen world and what is the nature of a Trinitarian God of love.”

      God is more than love. He appeared to Constantine and led him to victory. Many times He destroyed Israel’s enemies in the Old Testament. You misperceive the nature of God. It’s a cliche at this point, but I’ll repeat it anyway, the same God who lay in a manger killed the first born of Egypt.

      People like to selectively quote Christ to make him a pacifist. But the same Christ who said not to resist evil and to allow another to strike you 7 times 70 times also said if your eye offends you, pluck it out and if your hand tempts, you cut it off. He used hyperbole quite freely.

      “. . . by the way have you ever listened to Metropolitan Jonah on war because you would be greatly disturbed at your current rate”

      I generally don’t listen to the OCA when it comes to certain issues including war and the death penalty. They have on occassion gone out of their way to make statements in the name of Orthodoxy which historically are not the position of the Church. The Church has never had a problem with the death penalty. Pat. Kirill was quite clear on this in the statement of the Church of Russia on its social concept. The Orthodox have fought many wars, usually invoking the protection of the Theotokos and the assistance of St. Michael.

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        God is more than love. He appeared to Constantine and led him to victory. Many times He destroyed Israel’s enemies in the Old Testament. You misperceive the nature of God. It’s a cliche at this point, but I’ll repeat it anyway, the same God who lay in a manger killed the first born of Egypt.

        True, as far as it goes. What you don’t see Scott is that for you these verses function as truisms, as principles that you claim you read in context but actually serve to justify ideas that are drawn from other sources. It leads to sloppy assertions such as “God is more than love” (He isn’t) or “You misperceive the nature of God” (no one has any perception of God’s nature), and so forth.

        Isaac overstates the case when he writes “You guys should be Christians first and Neo-Cons second or preferably not at all” but the essential intuition that informs the scolding (if I read him right) is probably along the lines that the scriptures are used to fast and too loose to justify ideas that are not really there. I think he is right.

        • Scott Pennington :

          “What you don’t see Scott is that for you these verses function as truisms, as principles that you claim you read in context but actually serve to justify ideas that are drawn from other sources.”

          Correct, I don’t see that because it’s not true. It is not one verse or another, it is the weight of the whole Old Testament witness as to the character of God. God’s wrath is often mentioned and reported in quite violent terms. You are simply wrong and don’t want to face reality on this subject or you feel that the truth can’t be defended to modern American audiences (market Christianity).

          “It leads to sloppy assertions such as ‘God is more than love’ (He isn’t) or ‘You misperceive the nature of God’ (no one has any perception of God’s nature), and so forth.”

          They are not sloppy but rather precisely correct. When I spoke of “nature” I was speaking of God’s character (which is obvious in context) not His essence. If He is not more than love, then how is it that He rained destruction on Sodom and Gemorrah or destroyed all of humanity but Noah’s family in a flood? If those were pure acts of love, then our definitions are at odds. Also, if He is only love, He does not exist as anything more than an emotion or an abstract (the assertion of which is tantamount to atheism).

          The stories of God, His love and His wrath, are meant to enlighten us as to His character. To claim that I am reciting them as proof texting is silly. I’m referring to whole incidences, really a long series of them throughout the Old Testament, not just “verses”.

          However, that mindset does explain your comments regarding “God in the Old Testament”. If we are free to invent a God 2.0 (and leave ourselves open to Episcopalians inventing a God 3.0), then it would be because we believe that God is only love and thus wherever love takes us is God’s will.

          Too touchy feely for me. Believe as you will.

  11. Michael Bauman :

    Isaac, there is a course that allows for appropriate use of deadly force that is within the Orthodox tradition. Chrys is right: if we train in the unseen warfare and actually fight there, we can become genuine peacemakers even in the military.

    The discussion of particular policy decisions and actions within an on-going war is always going to lead to the type of shouting match displayed here.

    Hatred and anger can consume anyone even otherwise faithful Christians.

    One of the enemies that all soldiers face is the temptation to give into muderous rage on the battlefield and kill without thought. Another is to be so engrossed in the mission that the enemy becomes less than human. Same goes for folks at home. I pray for the soldiers who carried out the misson becasue they are now different.

    Bin Laden gave himself up to evil and decided to live by the sword. He died by it. The 12 year old child was there becasue Bin Laden wanted her there, surely to educate her into the culture of evil and violence he espoused as well as to use her as a deterent any one attacking. That is the cowardice of Islamic jihadists shown over and over again. She was not killed. Had it been a Christian home being invaded by jihadists, the odds are that she would have been killed and without mercy as Scott points out.

    Surely we are not to rejoice in the death of a sinner, but it does not mean that we should recognize Bin Laden reaped what he sowed.

    • Pravoslavac :

      As a member of the US military I found the drunken cavorting of loudmouths chanting “USA! USA!!” – as if the country were a sports team and OBL’s death were a playoff game – to be deeply disturbing. The image of our society was ugly and anything but Christian.

      That said, there is ample cause for satisfaction, if not rejoicing, at OBL’s death. If anyone deserved such an end in our day, it was he. His efforts to erase any line between combatants and non-combatants – which they took pretty far already – may now be halted before we have a WMD event on our shores. Insh’allah as they say.

      Not too long ago, only a century, Orthodox understood Islam pretty well. Ever seen the Russian medal for the 1877-78 war against the Turks in Bulgaria? Nice image of a three-bar cross crushing a crescent. We need not go that far, but calling the enemy what he is seems perfectly fine to me.

      It’s certainly preferable to the vaguely fey “Orthodoxy” of converts (I’m thinking of Rod Dreher here, and trying to be charitable, given how he’s messed things up for his side and himself recently) who urge us to love our enemies to the point of letting them kill us all.

      No thanks …

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        Why the hit on Dreher? Where did he ever say that we should let our enemies kills us? I was with you until I read that last sentence.

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