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May 3rd, 2011
04:03 PM ET

My Take: Bin Laden died long ago

Editor's Note: The Rev. David Lewicki is co-pastor of North Decatur Presbyterian Church in Decatur, Georgia. He is a graduate of Yale University and Union Theological Seminary and was ordained in 2005 by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

By the Rev. David Lewicki, Special to CNN

On Sunday night I watched the news as it crescendoed around the president’s speech declaring the death of Osama bin Laden. The talking heads worked capably with what few details they had. On the split screen, familiar spliced video footage replayed what little most of us know — or care to know — about bin Laden: wearing a turban, sitting drinking tea, a long salt and pepper beard, speaking to friends, crouching holding a machine gun, skyscrapers smoking.

Twitter gave a way to take the public temperature. Some passed information without editorial: “Bin Laden is dead!” Others tried to score political points: “took O 2 years to do what B couldn’t do in 7,” or “THAT’S a ‘mission accomplished.’” Reports said impromptu crowds gathered in front of the White House and at Ground Zero exuberantly chanting “USA! USA!,” singing our anthem. Others retorted that they would not celebrate any person’s death, no matter who it was. Still others retrieved unsettling data about what it has cost us to find and kill bin Laden, in dollars and human lives.

Finally, from those with an intimate connection to the innocents of 9/11, there were tweets about tears. Tears of relief? Tears because the news dragged them back to the still-tender memories of a decade ago? Yes and yes. I was a first-year theology student in New York City on that day in 2001; I know the tears.

All of these responses are authentic for a Christian who lives in America. Bin Laden has had more influence in the last decade over the way we live our lives than any other person. He was a wedge in our politics, he disrupted our ability to come and go freely; he triggered a vast global security and surveillance apparatus. He was directly or indirectly the focus of two wars that affected the material well-being and peace of mind of millions here and across the world.

He desecrated Islam and radicalized Christianity, making some Christians more enthusiastic about military action than they might have been otherwise, while making others more enthusiastic about trying to find peaceful solutions to global problems.

He robbed people of mothers and fathers, took away their children. He made a whole nation feel vulnerable and fearful of unpredictable catastrophic violence.

One thing we might do well today is give permission to each other to feel all of the things that we might be feeling. There is no one manner by which to respond to this man’s death, because his life impacted all of us, sometimes in radically divergent ways.

Beyond our feelings, Christians might also spend time considering our Lord’s call to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. This is not easy. If we call ourselves Americans as well as Christians, we may feel a strong civic sense that what our government did in our name was the embodiment of public justice.

But our political identity and our identity as followers of Jesus are rarely reconcilable. Jesus did not meet enemies with violence. He asserted that the way to loose ourselves of our enemies was, counter-intuitively, by loving them and forgiving them — by wanting God’s best for them and believing in the Holy Spirit’s power to convert any person to faithful obedience. Jesus implied that if the Spirit does not convert them to goodness in this life, any judgment of their deeds is to be left in the hands of their creator — God alone. Our job is to never cease praying that they receive God’s blessing.

I have been praying for Osama bin Laden for 10 years. I was not surprised by news of his death. As I asked myself why, I suspect it is because, in my eyes, bin Laden died long ago. He died to goodness; he died to mercy; he died to peace. He died to the things that God cares most about. He was alive until this week — but he died to life a long time ago.

I have wondered over the years what God tried to do to win him back to love. I wonder about the confounding ability of human beings to resist the love of God. I wonder about these things for Osama bin Laden and I wonder about same things with respect to my own life. Today, as I have many days before, I pray for my enemy — I pray him into the hands of the God of justice and of mercy.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the Rev. David Lewicki. This post first appeared on the Fund for Theological Education website.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: 9/11 • Christianity • Death • Islam • Opinion • Osama bin Laden • Presbyterian

soundoff (1,280 Responses)
  1. Targetmouse

    lol 'god' ...

    May 3, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  2. dave_in_altmar

    Wow. Now I know what a coma feels like....

    May 3, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • David Lewicki

      Sorry Dave. I was aiming for a cure for insomnia.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:42 am |
  3. julian

    Every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that he is the lord

    May 3, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • Smite Me

      Sounds more like something that your 'Satan' character would say...

      May 3, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  4. Boooo

    One religious idiot talking about another. Shame on CNN for running such unintelligent drivel. 9/11 affected Christians in America? Stuff a sock in it moron.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  5. Aeromechanic

    I started reading this "article" and then realized it was BS so I skimmed over the rest.

    It is still 2 minutes that I will never get back.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  6. Crypto

    Osama Bin Laden – "Hide and Go Seek" world record holder 2001-2011

    May 3, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  7. Phil

    He's a man of faith, that already discredits him.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  8. Captain_OWNER

    THANKS GOD-BOY. NEXT.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
  9. Mensaboy

    I pray every night that those who kill in the name of God meet him quickly, and discover his wrath.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
  10. Colin

    So, we have a Christian convinced that a Mulsim who was convinced he was doing Allah's work, had turned his back on the Christian god. The Christian is convinced that the Muslim is in the Christian god's hands as a sinner and the Muslim's followers are convinced that the Muslim is in Allah's hands as a martyr and hero.

    Hmmm, I wonder who is right?

    Maybe, just msaybe, this whole scenario simply brings into sharp focus how regional, non-universal and parochial our various religions are and how we pretty much make them all up as we go along.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • equalOpportunityOffender

      Collin there's a problem here - Allah is the God of Abraham - Jews, Muslims and Christians have all subverted he same God for their own purposes. Each has their own *preferred* pieces of the history/story that they like to follow and pieces they want to ignore. I would still be that one of the Seals jammed a slim jim into ObL's mouth as he was expiring.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Chumlee

      Colin, first among monotheism was Judeism. Next came Christianity, reme,ber Jesus was a Jew. Then about 400 years later along comes Islam with their prophet Muhammed.

      IOWs it's the same God.

      Even Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet, just not the last one. They also don't think he was the son of God.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • David Lewicki

      Good points Colin. I tend to shy away from universals in my own theological work. Obviously from the comments, there are a lot of perspectives out there.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • Seminarian

      @Colin,

      Technically, no Muslim can be sure about whether or not he gets into heaven, not even martyrs in jihad. Muhammad himself died not knowing whether or not Allah would allow him into heaven. The Islamic faith is based upon good works: when one gets to the end of one's life one's good works and one's evil works are laid out, and this determines one's eternal destination (that, and the temperament of Allah at the time).

      That being said, martyrdom during jihad is a very good work, so it is assumed that if one dies in jihad, then one will obtain paradise. It is kind of like the view of the medieval Church that joining a monastery was the only way to assure oneself of getting to heaven.

      @equalOpportunityOffender,

      I myself, and I believe Rev. Lewicki, would argue that as Christians we do not subvert God to our own beliefs, but we attempt (often poorly) to subject ourselves to God.

      @Chumlee,

      Your argument that the three religions worship the same God does not take seriously the exclusive truth claims of the three religions. It is an untenable claim.

      May 4, 2011 at 12:51 am |
  11. David Lewicki

    Dj and Rob, OBL might have literally died a while ago–We may never know. The question I was working with is what does his death mean to me. Still relevant, even if he turns out to have been long dead.

    John, Ed, Hemingway, I'm not. Mea culpa.

    Nonimus, prayer, for me is an action and it always leads to action. I have sought a deeper understanding of Islam and have tried, in my own sphere to be a peacemaker these last ten years. You're right to focus on action.

    HeavenSent, I haven't been to heaven or hell yet so I can't say for sure who's there.

    DaLe, sorry if mine is mish or mash.

    Thanks for the comments, all.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Rogue

      Is this the author? Really? How rare to see one respond here...
      So can you tell us how CNN was able to get you to write an article and what they said to you that made you want to write such an article?
      And do they pay you for these things? I'm curious. No one ever talks about the nuts and bolts of writing an article for CNN's Belief Blog...

      May 3, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • Erica Barnes

      Rev Lewiki,
      I found your article very incisive and theologically deep. I am a recent convert (from Baptist and Presbyterianism) to Eastern Orthodoxy. Much of what you said (and what you did not say in terms of dogmatic assertions) rang true with me and helped me frame the recent news of OBL within my Christian system of thought. Blessings on your ministry.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • Forevever

      Rev, I'm not a religious person by any means, but I do appreciate your point of view. I'm glad to see someone willing to put it out there, in spite of the attacks you're likely to invite. I was extremely embarrassed Sunday night, when people congregated to celebrate a death... not even yet confirmed, people dropped what they were doing, without details, and rushed out to celebrate on the White House lawn or at ground zero. In my mind this puts us right on the level of the people in the middle east (regardless of their religion) out celebrating the towers falling.. But you made a very good point, people will deal with this in their own way and we should try to respect each other. Pointing fingers and name calling is for the playground. I am more disturbed now by the lack of civility we show people who don't think exactly as we do.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • David Lewicki

      now if you don't mind...I have some altar boy molesting I need to attend to..

      May 4, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  12. T-party

    I rank bin ladin up there with Jim Jones Koresh,Andrea yates and all the other fanatical religious folks. Glad he is dead bring our brave troops home and pay them to protect OUR boarders

    May 3, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • ihtfpaeoh

      Andrea Yates was a religious fanatic?

      May 3, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • T-party

      Yes she was my neib she drowned her five children cause they acted up and she was sure they were going to he-ll. so she killed them @ an innocent age.....

      May 3, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • t-ho

      Um...you mean 'borders'? Tea Party folk struggle mightily with the whole spelling thing.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  13. ROBinDALLAS

    Have a preacher deliver some disinformation to conflate the issue. Thank you Cass Sunstein. Brilliant.

    OBL was literally dead years ago. He died of kidney failure. This recent raid is bogus. That is why they dumped the "body" in the ocean.

    May 3, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • kman02

      I used to think that, but I got smart.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • pazke

      Keep drinking the koolaid, Rob

      May 3, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • oakhill

      LOL!! And what. You don't think Al Qaeda wouldn't JUMP at the chance to prove the US made all this up?? Get real. While the whole dump the body in the ocean thing struck me as odd, and somewhat suspect, I, and most others who may have initially wondered at the lack of proof aspect, did take the time to think it through.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • cooperunion

      What is there a gas leak in your house!

      May 3, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • many

      lets just pretend ufos exist and the loch ness monster and elvis are in fact married and happy in the Florida Keys. Here's a common sense question to your crankery. You don't believe OBL died two days ago, because there is no hard evidence. And yet, you do believe OBL died of kidney failure years ago without any evidence at all to support that. How's that work again?

      What do you cranks want, the US govt to deliver the body to your doorstep before you will believe? Forget all the existing video, blogs from Pakistan, official corroboration and the photos and videos that will be release soon. Nothing will be good enough for you im sure, but yet, you believe in this kidney failure story when there is not one credible witness or piece of evidence

      May 4, 2011 at 1:01 am |
  14. BG

    "... there is a lot of theological and intellectual mish-mash around..."

    Yep. Here's your free kick in the butt... See ya.

    May 3, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  15. DaLe

    Well, a very likely so-called mentally-ill person got killed (from a more or less atheist viewpoint anyways), respectivly the idol in the minds of many, and many rejoice. Perhaps they now even hope more for more random arrests and killings of alleged terrorists anywhere as long as it isn't on US territory where there would be trouble with having to deal with things in a legal way?
    Anyways, not referring to the article here, I am tired of double standards, rhetoric, others' and my non-mature comments. You guys surely won't mind if I move on elsewhere? Stupid question! I'll probably even get kicks in the butt for free for doing so. Or is there perhaps anything you guys want to talk seriously at last about?
    Personally, I didn't rejoice in any person's death, not only because it is spiritually distracting and leading down the road of more violence (eg. former boss is a 'bad' guy in your view? Why not kill him, his family and his neighbours self-justice-style then?).

    "I have wondered over the years what God tried to do to win him back to love."

    You mean such as impulses of cleaning up water (as reported eg. on CNN) after many corporations dumbed their waste into it without any regard to humans, flora and fauna? Bad for business and profit, isn't it? But hey, ObL cared about it (at least in rhetoric), so right patriots are against it and expect corporations to continue doing so, unless only the most material rich will have means to live in healthy artificial environments, right? Seriously though, there is a lot of theological and intellectual mish-mash around – partially due to ego which each ceases to exist at some point or another, and, surprise surprise, the overall world doesn't end because of it.

    May 3, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • Rogue

      Well that was a waste of space...

      May 3, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • DaLe

      Make me a boogie man, send Seal and spit on my corpse? Your body's lusts are gonna like it.

      May 4, 2011 at 3:50 am |
  16. HeavenSent

    The man was spiritually dead as soon as his ego (sin of pride) blinded him.

    Amen.

    May 3, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • Ed

      "The man was spiritually dead as soon as his ego (sin of pride) blinded him" Sin of pride hmmm... Thinking of a quote about glass houses. How does it go again or maybe a pot and kettle is more fitting.

      May 3, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw kettles called Black?

      May 3, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      The man was dead the moment he became a Muslim. He will burn in hell as all Muslims will.
      Amen.

      May 3, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • Cant tell which heavensent is which

      WHO ARE YOU?
      Amen.

      May 3, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • Ed

      Thanks nonimus near enough

      May 3, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • DaLe

      "He will burn in hell as all [whatever] will."

      Because (in more or less Christian folklore terms) St. Peter and co. decide based on labels? Rather doubtful, isn't it?

      May 3, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • Russ Germain

      what the HELL is wrong with you? Muslims are not evil. get it through your thick skull! radicalists that use the Muslim background and exploit it are evil!

      So what you are basically saying, idiot.. is that one of the greatest human beings, Muhammed Ali should die? even though he's a muslim?

      you ignorant, pathetic excuse for a human being!

      May 3, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • NeutralMind

      HeavenSent you are an idiot.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • Lobmo

      Ok. Watch Religlous... At the end if the day its true. What Christians falsely follow, what Judaism has suffered, what Muslims deal with in hate alone, will bring this world to it's final breath. Nonimus, if you have one care for this green earth you live and feast from........

      "And now the ground we call our home, is but a Barron wasteland... The only sound drowning our cries, is the detonation!" – Mathew K. Heafy

      May 3, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • cooperunion

      You are about as sharp as a bag of wet mice!

      May 3, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • YaBaby

      Those who live in houses without glass shouldn't fly planes into NYC buildings! He got what he got, bye bye OSAMA!

      May 3, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • sassypants

      Jesus is the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Him. For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save the world through Him. Anyone who is in Christ is no longer condemned but anyone who is not in Christ stands condemned already.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  17. Nonimus

    Most of this article is just plat.itudes, but whatever gets you through the day, I guess, but I think he is granting bin Ladan too much power and influence.
    The point I disagree with is, "Our job is to never cease praying that they receive God’s blessing." So do noting? That's your answer? How about joining the military, or joining the diplomatic corps, or reaching out to Muslims in your neighborhood for both your own understanding and theirs. Build a Community. Spread Peace. Enshrine Education. Stop human trafficking.
    Nah, just pray....

    "I wonder about the confounding ability of human beings to resist the love of God."
    That which has no effect, causes no effort.

    May 3, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • DaLe

      The author of this article is 'granting ObL too much power and influence'. lol 🙂
      Btw, what of the things you listed have or are you doing and how?
      "reaching out to Muslims... Build a Community. Spread Peace. Enshrine Education." Somewhat premise of the article, no?

      May 3, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • BG

      @ Nominus

      " Build a Community. Spread Peace. Enshrine Education."

      We tried that in Iraq. They keep blowing it up.

      May 3, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @DaLe, @BG,
      So are you saying that praying actually does something? What would that be?

      May 4, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  18. John Richardson

    Dang, I had a near death experience while reading this article! Almost bored to death by all the predictable verbiage ...

    May 3, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • Ed

      oh good I thought I was the only one

      May 3, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Rogue

      You too? This constant rehashing and vapid opinion pieces is very similar to watching all the empty-headed jaw-flappers who "discuss" and "weigh in" when they really don't have much to add to any conversation. Like you and me. We are part of the internet blahhhging experience. Aren't semantically empty opinions wonderful? This one is mine. Yours is wonderful too.

      May 3, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • yadumonde

      Yawn...

      May 4, 2011 at 1:01 am |
  19. Lycidas

    It's just not the potential evil that died with the man, any possibility for good did as well.

    May 3, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Yeah, all potential for good died as well, not that there was exactly a whole lot of that particular potential.

      May 3, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • fda

      sh ut up, just sh ut up.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  20. djlockerthebrain

    This article is a sham just like all of CNN's articles. Bin Laden did die years ago but not to Jesus or any other phoney fantasy. CNN always takes the truth, puts it in the headline and then writes an article co-opting that truth and watering it down to make it just another silly distraction. Pathetic.

    May 3, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • BG

      It's in the job description that Prince Walid gave to CNN...

      May 3, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • paul

      This is one of the worst editing jobs I have ever seen. The headline actually betrays the story..............very poor choice.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • marc gossin

      Enough of this crap start – TAXING ALL OF THE CHURCHES AND THEIR PROPERTIES.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • shlom ster

      OMG, you must be an Anointed By God. I'd yield to you, except for the whole... idiocy of it.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • Army4Ever

      Deputy Secretary of State going to testify that Bin Laden died in 2001 and that 9/11 was an inside job. Read at InfoWars . com

      May 4, 2011 at 11:11 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.