I am totally stupefied with emotions from the news that Osama Bin Laden has been killed. I am greatly satisfied that our military objective for the nine years has been achieved. There are feelings of (Reconciliation? Justice? Certainly NOT any peace!) realizing that the lives of young soldiers lost have not been in vain. This man of terror, who harbored hatred and disdain for all things American and all things Christian, who has led many others to kill under the guise of something ‘holy,” has met final “justice” we are told. It feels like a weight has lifted from the world. Yet…? I also feel confusion…?
While this man devalued life and inflicted great pain and terror on our country and others, the rejoicing in the killing of another human being, even one so despised, or the “joy” of taking another’s life, leaves me with feelings of sadness and disbelief.
These cropped up while watching large crowds of Americans waving both flags and crosses while cheering wildly that we have killed the enemy! Visually I am struck that “we” Americans look no different from the crowds we “love to hate” – those who rejoice in the bloody slaughter of the enemy. It strikes us as terribly wrong because they are killing the “enemy” of Americans, or Jews, or Christians-those who perhaps look like us or have something in common with us. We offer scorn on others from different nationalities, or religious beliefs, claiming they are as savages for such behavior, yet is this not what we, too, are doing? Will this not cause further hate among those who would do Americans harm?
This joint satisfaction (dare I even say relief?) and sadness in my gut seems incompatible. It reminds me of a midrash story heard from my Jewish friends concerning concerning the Exodus from Egypt as cited in Talmud Tractate Megillah 10b. The best lay explanation of it I can find this morning comes from Rabbi Melanie Aron, written in 2003. The entire article, with the back story, may be found here.
Rabbi Aron writes:
Imagine the angels watching anxiously as the Israelites leave Egypt and begin their march towards the desert. The rabbis describe the angels sort of like fans at a ball game, sitting up in the bleachers, watching what’s going on, and cheering on their favorites.
Hurry up, the angels urge the Israelites, who are only slowly leaving Egypt. It’s taken some time to get the Israelites moving. Packing up their belongings is a job after all they’ve been in Egypt for 400 years. There are children to prepare for the trip and old people. The Israelites are unaware of any danger, but the angels can see everything at once, notice Pharaoh regretting his decision to free the people, and calling up his horsemen and chariots to chase after them and recapture them.
Oh no, the angels cry, when they see the Israelites heading off in the direction of the Sea of Reeds, the Pharaoh’s chariots will catch up to them from behind. They’ll be trapped, the angels moan, they can’t move forward into the sea, and behind them is all the might of Egypt. Its hopeless, they exclaim, there is no way out. The angels join in the cries of the Israelites, who by now have turned around and realize the desperateness of their situation.
Of course you know what happens next. In ancient times, since they didn’t have night vision goggles, armies hunkered down in the dark and didn’t attack. All night the two groups remain still, the Israelites at the shore of the sea, and the Egyptian army just behind them. Then a Ruach Kaddim, a wind from the east, creates a path through the sea. Following Nachshon ben Aminadab, the first Israelite courageous enough to step into the sea, the Israelites are able to cross safely, but when the Egyptians follow with their soldiers and heavy chariots, they become stuck in the mud and as the waters come rolling back over them, they drown in the sea.
At that point the angels break out into song, they are so happy, so relieved that the Israelites are finally safe. All that God had done for the Israelites has finally paid off, the Israelites are free at last.
God sees the angel’s rejoicing, but God isn’t pleased. “My creatures are drowning in the sea”, God says, “and you sing songs?”.
Rabbi Aron continues by explaining:
… the angels were supposed to have a somewhat broader perspective. They should have kept their awareness of the spark of God that is in every person, even the Pharaoh himself. They should have remembered God’s teaching, “it is not the death of the wicked that I seek, but only that he should turn from his evil ways and live.”
The midrash seems to offer that perhaps God, too, has conflicting emotions sometimes.
My eight year old also expressed mixed emotions today. Upon hearing the news this morning at breakfast he said, “That’s good, isn’t it?! Our enemy is dead!!!” Then following a long pause, he added, “but aren’t we supposed to pray for our enemies?”
As is the case so often in my parenting, I just didn’t have the answer because I, too, am so full of questions. How can I fully live believing the words “thou shalt not kill” and the commands of Jesus to “pray for those who persecute you” and “love your enemies” and still be honestly so relived that an enemy is defeated?
Ironically, the words of Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, senior director at the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, which were offered less than two weeks after the attacks of September 11, 2001, still ring true for me on this morning: “There are times when real action must be taken, but that real action must not be celebrated,” he said.
So…I ponder these thoughts and emotions this morning, trying to keep this in mind: We live in a time when things are not yet made right, we do not live “in the age to come” but in the now, a now of brokenness and darkness in creation. We cannot claim to live in, as the Greek word “parousia” is used, a time filled with “the knowledge of the Lord” as the prophet Isaiah writes (11:9).
Truthfully, most of us, me included, cannot even imagine a time when, “God will settle disputes for many peoples…and nation shall not lift up sword against nation (Isaiah 2:4)” So, because things just aren’t right and balanced, fully and whole, why am I struggling to find the ‘right” emotion to embrace? Perhaps these unbalanced emotions are the emotions of such a time as this.
My emotions are just that today: unbalanced, broken, confused, crazy, human emotions. I don’t think any of us have to find “the right” emotion today. Is there really such a thing on an occasion such as this? Re-reading, yet once again, from Corrie Ten Boom’s book The Hiding Place this morning, these words are speaking to me again: “And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the worlds’ healing hinges, but on His…”
I am reminded that it is not my “rightness” (nor my “forgiveness any more than on [my] goodness”) on which healing begins in this world. In holding these conflicted human emotions before God, begging for understanding, aching for some healing to begin, praying for some change to our bitter world and struggling with rejoicing over the death of en enemy, perhaps healing actually begins. That in itself feels like a glimmer of hope at least for me. Fom past experience, I know that God surprises me like that—with hope– in the darkness. Thanks be to God.