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. The Straight Skinny

    You, sir, are in dire need of a reality check.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:20 am |
  2. Miguel

    So where exactly does this Pastor get his intel? Faith... Well Jesus told me you are full of beans and are in the church business to make money. If we have to believe your lie, wouldn't you have to believe mine?

    May 4, 2011 at 8:18 am |
  3. thespiritguy

    Amen to that karmamaster

    May 4, 2011 at 8:18 am |
  4. cypher20

    As a Christian I see the author's point. However, it seems to me more complicated than presented here. Individually we are called to love others, forgive them, turn the other cheek, etc. Is this the way our gov't should work though? Someone destroys the twin towers and the gov't should what, blow up the Pentagon for them because they didn't succeed at totally destroying it, give all the terrorists passports so they can freely get into the country?

    There isn't an easy answer, and it's still something I"m thinking through. It seems though that the way we are called to act individually does not always translate up to the nation level though. I want to be a generous person and want my friends to be generous. I want the gov't to be stingy b/c the gov't has no money of its own, only the money it takes from its citizens. It's a lot to think about.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • Bfstman

      That is because when Jesus made his proclamations, nations didn't exist. Remember that the Bible was written almost two thousand years ago and you point out only one of its many archaic features. Of course, being a "God inspired work" (according to fundamentalist Christians, not me) it can never be revised to reflect modern realities. (Question: Did the omniscient God, not see the coming of nations???)

      May 4, 2011 at 8:28 am |
  5. atheistforjesus

    There is no god.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:17 am |
  6. Chris

    This is funny. Anyone who still believes that Christianity in America still has anything to do with "love and forgiveness" is sadly deluded. They can try to convince themselves that they're good people, but the rest of us can see that their ideology has become one of hate and oppression. For this pastor to accuse bin Laden of abandoning peace, goodness, and mercy is like Jeffrey Dahmer criticizing Ted Bundy.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:17 am |
  7. karmamaster

    Unfortunately the Biblical interpretation of Christ's words and the events surrounding his crusade and death are subject to individuals. Just as the events of Bin laden's death have changed over the last three days; the events of Christ's death have changed over the last 2000+ years. Christ reportedly asked that his persecutors be forgiven "for they know not what they do". My interpretation is "they did not know the significance of their actions". Christ death as necessary in the eyes of most Christians if he was in fact the foretold Messiah. Bin Laden knew what he was doing and was responsible for thousands of deaths around the world of Christians and people of other faiths as well. If as the Rev. David Lewicki suggest we are supposed to "forgive our enemies", then we should disband our military and quit defending our ideologies with anything other than "love"; funny when you think about the crusades, the inquisition and every other atrocity carried out in the name of Christ. Bin Laden got what he deserved as every other terrorist zealot (whether Muslim or Christian) should.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:16 am |
  8. Ryan

    This guy has his opinion – I just don't share it.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:13 am |
  9. thespiritguy

    Forgiveness is always a good thing, however, it does not always work miracles in the lives of those we pray for. To pray for Bin Laden in the spirit he would become a kinder, gentler Bin Laden was a very pious thing to do. However, I doubt it had much affect upon his day to day thinking and I imagine his day to day thinking, when he wasn't busy just trying to avoid justice, was to inflict as much pain upon those who didn't abide by his own interpretation of God. Therefore, in my mind, he was always alive, always a danger and beyond prayer.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:12 am |
  10. Sigh

    It's this type of ignorance that is pulling America apart. But I guess you can't expect intelligence when you are dealing with people who believe in an imaginary being that controls everything.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:11 am |
  11. Ben Thare

    Oh, let me guess ... this piece was an April Fools gag that is a month late in being published. Okay. Can we move to content that actually matters, please? This person's opinion doesn't really do much.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  12. luffing

    Nice article. I get what Rev. David Lewicki is putting forth. But, I think the Rev. needs a bit more street time.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  13. Lair

    "Osama desacrated Islam"?!? Wrong. Osama is the fruit of Islam, the natural outgrowth of a violent and avaricious system of philosophy, economics, and governance. Islam a religion of peace? Not so.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:09 am |
  14. Les

    @ Peter and liligi

    Yes, Christians are the same as Al Quaeda in the sense that their lives are dictated by a completely unfounded, unproven, extremist views that revolve around an arrogance that their religion, God, views, etc., are correct, and anyone who believes differently is sub-standard, judged, and your type pray for them in the hope that they will someday see the light and join your madcap group. As I said, not behaviorally, but conceptually, as much evidence exists for the crazy teachings of the Koran as it does for the crazy teachings of the Bible. Have you read the Bible? If you followed it literally, you'd be a terrorist too. But, like most, I'm sure you cherry pick the parts you believe in, and conveniently ignore the rest

    May 4, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • jashik

      That's the American way isn't it? Take what you want and ignore everything else.

      May 4, 2011 at 8:21 am |
    • JackSpade

      @Les – you're loose with your definition, as is a lot on this thread, for what terrorism is – "the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes." Let's keep everyone honest here. There is an unspoken sacred right we all have to believe what we do which includes disagreeing with others (evidently your stance). That is NOT terrorism.

      May 4, 2011 at 8:40 am |
  15. Religion is for the bored

    Really? I can assure you that bin Laden was just as convicted about his religious beliefs as this this guy, so who's right? Definitely not the guy who resorted to violent acts, but I also wouldn't say the guy that found theology in the Ivy Leagues. Religion is like a penis: it's okay if you have one and to be proud of it, but don't go around waving it in public and certainly don't go shoving it down anybody's throat.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:07 am |
    • JackSpade

      Smart enough to ignore the fact that you're ideas are religion too. Sorry to point it out, but you're standing up for what you believe in and denouncing what you don't. I think I can call that your personal "Islam", say?

      May 4, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • Doug

      That was borderline hilarious, I will now use that as one of my favorite quotes. Religion is very much like a penis, when used wrecklessly it can cause a lot of damage.

      May 4, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  16. Richard

    All this just sounds like one terrorist bad-mouthing another terrorist

    May 4, 2011 at 8:06 am |
    • JackSpade

      @RIchard – galvanizing someone for their religious world view is also an act of terrorism (just more on the conceptual and pragmatic). Perhaps you're not too far from those that you call terrorists than you think.

      May 4, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  17. Joseph

    "I don't care what his religion is but he doesn't offer a shred of evidence that Osama died years ago!" This completely misses the author's point. He is speaking figuratively, and he is exactly right.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  18. Myron Gaines

    This article made me poop my pants and sit on a water bed.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:05 am |
  19. David

    I understand Lewecki's position and as I've been told before, "I can take what I like and leave the rest". No other human emotion is as provocative as hate. In my own life, it has caused great boiling emotional unrest over the years, sucked every bit of energy from my soul. The opposite of hatred is not love but an almost as dangerous indifference. Love on the other hand can provoke everything from passion to sorrow.
    i think we can learn from other primates why we feel so compelled to kill. The great apes kill for revenge and in the passionate fury of anger and fear. We killed Osama bin Laden for that very reason. There was no secret place, not even the tiniest crevice, deep in America's soul where we could find anything paler than the blackest hatred for a human being. There was no forgiving what bin Laden did. I gave up on that about a long time ago. I used to think , steal an apple or a bushel, still a thief. Kill a man or kill 10, still a murderer. Bin Laden brought me around to a whole new way of seeing just how mean, evil and unredeemable human beings can be..

    May 4, 2011 at 8:04 am |
    • BloomingHere

      You people who accept a "take the best and leave the rest" version of religion make me ill. If it's your religion – accept it all, or work from within to change it. Or find a new religion. If you're accepting a portion and ignoring "the rest" – you don't really believe in it; it's just a sham. Be an active member, or don't be a member at all. For goodness sake, you're talking about your religious beliefs, not a trip to Hometown Buffet! Ignoring your church's beliefs on, say 'birth control' or 'creationism,' isn't like just skipping the seafood entrees.

      May 4, 2011 at 8:27 am |
  20. Tripp

    Why do organisations such as CNN give religion and the notion of a loving god such credibility?

    May 4, 2011 at 8:03 am |
    • Shane

      This is the dumbest thing I've read on the internet in a long time.

      And yes I read it, not just reading the headline.He died long ago to goodness?

      May 4, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • Tripp

      So why are you replying to my post?

      May 4, 2011 at 8:11 am |
    • Lee

      Great post! God is a caring God. You don't believe in Him or His compassion. Yet He allows your heart to pump blood and your eyes to see and ears to hear. You can not explain how your body continues to function nor why the seas roll for thousands of miles until they get to the coasts and stop. Thankfully God cares enough to allow us to enjoy life and family even when we struggle to give Him thanks for it.

      May 4, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • Bob

      "He desecrated Islam..."

      Uhm, no, sorry. Mohammed the Pedophile "Prophet" desecrated Islam by starting it.

      May 4, 2011 at 8:41 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.