The news from Pakistan about the killing of Osama bin Laden has elicited cheers from around our country. That's understandable. Bin Laden and others like him have been driven by a blind conviction that the world would be better off with one particular kind of fundamentalist Islam in control of all things big and small. Their willingness to take the lives of innocent people in the pursuit of their political and religious goals was unrestrained.
A friend sent me the following quote from Mark Twain: "I've never wished a man dead but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure." - Mark Twain
As a follower of Jesus I have struggled for a long time with the question about the appropriateness of war/violence as a means of solving problems. Jesus, after all, says (Matthew 5), "Here's another old saying that deserves a second look: 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' Is that going to get us anywhere? Here's what I propose: 'Don't hit back at all.' If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously."
Early Christians caused a scandal when they refused to serve in the army of the Roman Empire. Many Jesus followers were, from the beginning, pacifists. A great many Christians -including the sizable Amish and Mennonite populations in northern Indiana- continue to renounce violence in all situations.
I am not a pacifist. I believe Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Period. There is no "but" coming. I believe the world would be a much better place if we "bombed" nations like Iraq with things like food, blankets, and medical supplies. I believe living generously, practicing compassion with those who distrust us and wish us ill, will get us further down the road to a better world than resorting to violence. I am deeply concerned by our continuing high level of spending on weaponary. If we are not careful we are going to end up as a hollow empire with unlivable cities, failing schools, inadequate healthcare, and a state-of-the-art military machine. President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned America against the temptation to build our national agenda around the "military industrial complex."
And yet. And yet...we live in a world that is imperfect. We live in a world where there are very dangerous people who want to hurt the innocent. Every now and then there is a kind of evil loose in the world that must be confronted. Not to oppose this kind of implacable evil is to become a partner to the destruction caused by that evil.
I suppose the issue that "tipped" me in support of the "just war" side that of the Christian community (which claims there are times when military force may be our last, best option) was the Holocaust. As a teenager I came face to face with the reality of the deliberate efforts of National Socialism in the Germany of the 1930-40's to exterminate the Jews. Historians say that more than six million Jews, Gypsies, Communists, Jehovah's Witnesses and others were killed by the Nazis and their helpers in such nations as France, Russia and Poland. I did my best to imagine how a non-violent response, on the part of Christians in Europe and around the world, might have stopped Hitler and his plan. I finally came to the conclusion that this evil would have been prevented if France, Poland, Belgium, and other nations had militarily confronted Nazi Germany as it began its expansion.
Sometimes what you get when you seek to satisfy the demands of a little bully is a bigger bully. I learned that on the playground.
Reinhold Niebuhr, a pastor during the middle years of the last century, broke with other Christian leaders who were insisting that we stay out of the conflict against the Axis Powers. Niebuhr said that love sometimes means you do all you can to maximize justice in the world.
One Christian writer says there are two sides to love: one is soft (grace, acceptance) and the other is hard (accountability, discipline).
We live in a broken, imperfect world where there is too much injustice and where there are some very, very dangerous people who intend to harm the innocent. I am thankful that Osama bin Laden will not be able to create any more destruction in the world. His removal was, I believe, necessary. I do not feel joy at his death but a weary kind of relief.
Before I end these thoughts I need to say how deeply grateful I am for men and women who do heroic things to confront evil. The team that went deep into Pakistan and took a great risk and was extraordinarily brave, bright, and gifted. What they did was amazing.
I still yearn for the day when, as the song says, we aren't going to study war "no more." I yearn for the day when, as the prophet says, we will beat our swords into plowshares.