“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,
lest the Lord see it and be displeased,
and turn away his anger from him.”
Like most everyone else, I have been riveted by the news in the past 24 hours. After nearly 10 years of this war on terror, out of nowhere (as it seemed) Special Forces went into Pakistan and killed Osama bin Laden.
I work with military personnel and their families and have a deep respect for them and all the hardships they endure. I also admire their courage and skill. Both were on display as they dropped down next the Pakistan military college and pulled off the sort of operation we came to expect from Jack Bauer on 24 all those seasons. When real life heros surpass what even the magic of television or movies can dream up, then great respect and approbation are appropriate.
There is also a sober satisfaction that comes in seeing justice done. It is not fitting that persons who commit heinous crimes are not brought to account for their actions. Something at the deepest level of our humanity cries out for basic justice. Many times we can mute this inner calling by ignoring the victims of injustice, but this is never good and not always even possible. When justice is served there is a restoration of balance, a righting of the metaphysical ship, that gives us a good feeling, a satisfied feeling.
This can lead to the giddy (in many cases drunken) displays we saw in New York and Washington last night, but those go beyond the pale of who we should strive to be as human beings – and especially as followers of Christ. Mike Huckabee might be as comfortable as he looked when he said, “Welcome to hell Osama,” but I don’t think that is the sort of statement a Christian should ever be able to make comfortably at all. Bin Laden did great evil, but it is still sad to think of anyone spending eternity in hell.
Then we have the verse above which made its way around Twitter and Facebook last night and today (thankfully). There are other passages that express the same basic sentiment, and of course, the direct commands Jesus gave us to love our enemies and to pray for them.
There are other passages (like Miriam’s song about the horse and rider being thrown into the sea) that might seem to express the opposite view, but they are actually congruent with this proverb. God was explicit that we are to praise Him for the downfall of our enemies, not rejoice over our enemies’ demise itself. It is one thing to be thankful to the Lord, it is quite another to gloat over what has happened to our enemies.
Think about this proverb a couple of ways this week. First, spend some time reflecting on the stance the follower of Jesus should have to the war on terror and events like the demise of bin Laden. Second, bring it down from the geopolitical level to your own life. We all have ‘enemies’ and the approach we are to take with them is so radically different than what the world does. Every movie we watch with a villan that gets defeated in the end reinforces to us that we are to enjoy such demise (often in gruesome detail). We have to think long and practice hard to make our responses different – and by that I mean Christlike – in these situations.