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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. Alex

    I respect Rev. Lewicki's view, but I am happy for the demise of OBL because of what he represents and the lives saved by his death.
    In an ideal world, OBL would realize his evil ways and turn himself in to willingly face the consequences of his actions and denounce terrorism forever. But that did not happen and we cannot wait for that to happen while this man plans more innocent deaths. That wouldn't be very Christian.
    Instead we stopped him and exposed this icon of terror for what it really is – cowardice. The fact that OBL's final moments were spent in a multi-million dollar compound using a woman as a human shield speaks volumes.
    I'm not celebrating a man dead, I am celebrating an evil stopped and a symbol of hate destroyed.

    May 4, 2011 at 2:53 am |
  2. Mark C

    "I pray him into the hands of the God of justice and of mercy."

    If there is any justice, there will be no mercy.

    May 4, 2011 at 2:49 am |
  3. Stacey Cunningham

    I am genuinely surprised there are still so many people that still believe in the bogy man (osama bin laden). To this date, there is no hard evidence linking Osama Bin Laden to 9/11 (that was directly from the FBI). Yet people are still hanging onto this myth that somehow a man in a cave 3000 miles away managed to defeat our multi billion dollar air defense system? Time to wake up America!

    May 4, 2011 at 2:44 am |
    • Mark C

      Get help.

      May 4, 2011 at 2:50 am |
    • TBR

      Stacey, your comments are... uh, strange to stay the least. Someone masterminded 9-11, where exactly do YOU think they were? Do you think it was a coincidence that four planes crashed that day?

      May 4, 2011 at 2:54 am |
    • Mark C

      "The evidence linking Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden to the attacks of September 11 is clear and irrefutable."

      Statement for the Record of Dale L. Watson, Executive Assistant Director for Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence, Federal Bureau of Investigation, on The Terrorist Threat Confronting the United States before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Washington, D.C.

      May 4, 2011 at 2:57 am |
  4. Warrior

    LOL!!! I find it a bit funny & ironic how you are calling people out for doing the very same thing you are doing. You might want to STOP and take a second look at your thoughts and own actions. Just sayin' 😉

    May 4, 2011 at 2:39 am |
    • Warrior

      Oops! Mistakeningly posted in the wrong place...

      May 4, 2011 at 3:14 am |
  5. cassarit

    Pity this pensive preacher forgot that no man is dead until he is dead, and that to call a man dead before his time, is to reject the core Christian belief that no man is beyond salvation as long as he is alive. I think that like many New Yorkers, this preacher may be far too influenced by the old testament, and not enough by the new.

    May 4, 2011 at 2:35 am |
    • troy

      Jesus said "Iam the way the truth and the life no man cometh unto the father but through me".Is that enough new for you.

      May 4, 2011 at 2:41 am |
    • cassarit

      Oh Troy
      I'm a Catholic. I know all that. But in his apostacy, this preacher seems to have forgotten it all.

      May 4, 2011 at 2:48 am |
    • David Lewicki

      I actually agree with you. I pre-emptively judged him "dead," although as I tried to suggest in the last paragraph, there was a shred of hope that he might change...

      May 4, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  6. Kathy

    All I know is Bin Laden is fish bait and I'm rejoicing in that thought. Christian, Atheist, whatever you believe in I don't care. That murdering piece of crap finally got what he deserved. Let God sort it out. Don't know how much mercy She will show him, not much I'll bet. Hats off to our Navy Seals. Finally Missiom Accomplished!!!

    May 4, 2011 at 2:31 am |
    • cassarit

      Sure! Let God sort him out, and we can sort you out.

      May 4, 2011 at 2:36 am |
    • troy

      nicely said Kathy.

      May 4, 2011 at 2:36 am |
  7. Jeff Bell

    What a great post, capturing the conflicting emotions so many have felt as this event unfolded.

    The tragedy? A wasted life that brought pain and devastation to so many lives. What a waste of life.

    When good triumphs evil, I celebrate. When someone dies without any evidence of faith in Jesus, I grieve.

    May 4, 2011 at 2:30 am |
  8. snapperOU812

    It reminds me of how every second counts with dangerous curves like yours

    May 4, 2011 at 2:27 am |
  9. Jonas

    Very insightful and well written! Thank you for sharing. I originally thought this would be an article about some conspiracy theory, but was pleasantly surprised to find it the complete opposite. I choose to pray that God bless America, and choose not to pray "God damn Osama."

    May 4, 2011 at 2:27 am |
  10. Josh Pepper

    Is Kurt Cobain even really Dead?...wheres the photos & the body?...wheres the evidence....Bin Ladens photo must be released

    May 4, 2011 at 2:24 am |
  11. ved

    whatever this pastor says did not make sense to me. It is all nonsense. Obama lived for his religion while this pastor lives for his.

    May 4, 2011 at 2:23 am |
    • TxDoug

      Allow me to break it down for you – a person that has no heart is dead long before they stop pumping blood or breathing. They are dead to anything that makes us human or gives us a reason to go on living. You might try re-reading it with an open mind and if you still can't follow the allegory of someone being dead "inside", then it may be a good idea to avoid religious topics altogether because that pretty much sums up the bulk of them (i.e., you must have the spirit in you to truly be alive).

      May 4, 2011 at 3:18 am |
  12. Muhammad

    IIndeed a thoughtful piece. Thank you.

    May 4, 2011 at 2:20 am |
  13. Guest

    By the way, glad this is not some stupid conspiracy theory.

    May 4, 2011 at 2:19 am |
  14. Guest

    If there is a God, it's beyond our comprehension and trying to dissect or understand God is a fruitless endeavor. People want to believe that everyone will get what they deserve, that they will see their family again, that they won't cease to exist once dead. People fear the unknown. I believe all that awaits Osama is black nothingness. Stop praying and do something. Take action. Praying is like hoping. And hope is the last desperate alternative when you have nothing else to turn to. Doing things changes things. Love is not the answer for everything. It does not have the ability to save everyone. We could not have just prayed and hoped Osama would have a change of heart.

    May 4, 2011 at 2:18 am |
  15. Thank goodness im canadian

    Osama is probably dead but not the way usa is portraying this government is lying plain and simple

    May 4, 2011 at 2:17 am |
    • Warrior

      Right!! And Bush/Cheney and their Administration was so warmly honest with all of us!! NOT!!!

      May 4, 2011 at 3:10 am |
  16. mc lunchbox

    God bless us one & all.

    May 4, 2011 at 2:14 am |
  17. Bill

    What a thoughtful commentary. Thank you, Rev. Lewicki

    May 4, 2011 at 2:12 am |
  18. DesAtheist

    I am an atheist, and I was expecting this to be a conspiracy theory so I was surprised to see it on CNN even if it was the religious section so that is why I clicked over to check it out. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the insightful and well-written article by the reverend. While I am not religious, I can appreciate his take on the situation and agree that whatever each person is feeling about the situation is valid for them as individuals and we should try not to judge them for their feelings. I personally felt uneasy when people were celebrating his death. I didn't feel right celebrating that a person (no matter how vile) had been murdered and I truly do believe that violence only begets more violence. An example: I imagine that OBL's death may incite even more violence from revenge. Each time someone is murdered, it seems there is always someone who feels the need for revenge which only perpetrates more violence and so the cycle continues.

    I admittedly do not know a lot of specifics about the Christian religion, but I was surprised to see people posting on Facebook things like "Thank God Osama has been killed!" – even as a non-religious person this kind of association of God and murder made me uncomfortable. I can appreciate though, a religious person who follows a religion based on love and non-judgement of others, but this ravenous vengeance seeking Christian, this is the kind that really scares me.

    (P.S. I hope I did not offend, it is not my intention to come here and be a troll or crash a religious page, I just stumbled upon this article and wanted to post my thoughts.)

    May 4, 2011 at 2:10 am |
    • JcLoRdGoDbFaAoZ

      even though you are an atheist i still cant give you that label and suggest that you dont understand God or lack there of, for I do not have the answers because I can tie my shoes and run just like you in this place we call life. but the funny part is... what if dreams really did come true? What if we could tie our shoes and fly? but sadly we can only think so far outside the box... basically trying to believe in a dream that doesn't exist... a perfect world... but what if?

      May 4, 2011 at 2:25 am |
    • TBR

      DesAthiest, I saw your first words "I am an athiest" and expected the typical Christian bashing of most who start with those words. We need more people (athiest or religious) like yourself who can comment positively with someone who makes good points even if we do not agree with all they believe in or represent. Just because you are athiest I will not label you with negatives because we disagree about God. Thank you for commenting.

      May 4, 2011 at 2:48 am |
  19. Mudassar

    My question is this: When someone dies, how do we know that he or she did not not make mends with God before they died, even if it was a second before they died. I find it odd that we as humans can condemn anyone when actually God knows what happens to them after they die. Thanks.

    May 4, 2011 at 2:09 am |
    • Emmanuel Goldman

      Well Mudassar, thankfully, many of us think rationally and don't believe in the make-believe man in the sky to run our lives or our sense of justice. That should explain your question.

      May 4, 2011 at 2:29 am |
    • Thade

      Ummm because like Harry Potter, god does not exist.

      May 4, 2011 at 2:29 am |
    • davez

      Emmanuel Goldman
      ......"many of us"?.... I think not. Atheist are maybe 2% of the population. Thats not "many" by a long shot.

      May 4, 2011 at 3:02 am |
    • jenn

      Because popular opinion is a sort of prayer. It doesn't matter if he did it to his own ppl or not. He hurt human beings which God created. No one knows what happens.

      May 4, 2011 at 3:14 am |
  20. lance corporal

    churches are businesses = tax them

    May 4, 2011 at 2:09 am |
    • Seminarian

      That's fine by me. Since the boundary between church and state is now corroded, let's allow the teachers who wish to lead short Bible studies in their classrooms before beginning lessons.

      May 4, 2011 at 2:20 am |
    • julian

      I prey there is an intervention by Jesus in your heart

      May 4, 2011 at 2:28 am |
    • capt. america

      totally agree.

      May 4, 2011 at 2:33 am |
    • Israeli

      Very sick writer. He needs help.
      Terrorist like Bin Laden rely on this pastor to do their work for them (politically) in order to help them destroy our democracies from within. This writer truly is either stupid or dumb.

      May 4, 2011 at 2:49 am |
    • anonymous human

      leave it to to christian, sadly one educated at a well renowned university to make this about them. go read and post on fox news, thank you. lest you not forget you, and people like you cause such issues. only once the world can free itself from ideological views and belief in fairy tales as reality, can the world truly be free.

      May 4, 2011 at 2:55 am |
    • what the

      tax the churches = pay off the deficit

      why should your business be exempt from taxes just because it has an invisible friend

      May 4, 2011 at 2:55 am |
    • anonymous human

      i apologize for commenting on the wrong post, and with a few typographical errors. but i stand by what said

      May 4, 2011 at 2:58 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.