(para of Ezekiel 18:23 and from the Ash Wednesday Liturgy in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer 1979)
On the weekend after 9/11, I found myself at my usual hangout in the basement of the Travelodge listening to bad Karaoke with my friends after work. I remember vividly the Karaoke Jockey standing on the stage railing against Osama bin Laden with shockingly violent language involving hot oil and defecation. Even as a 21 year-old who spent too much time at the bar and not enough time at church, I remember feeling queasy about the vitriol directed toward one human being, but in many ways understanding the anger that lie at the root.
My life has changed a lot in the nearly 10 since. I'm now a husband, a father, a master's educated theologian, and a priest. My priorities have shifted since the days when the 'lodge put Miller Lite on tap just for me and my buddies, but today, as our nation comes to grips with the reality that OBL was killed by an American bullet, I once again find myself not sure how to feel.
I give thanks to God this morning that a seed of great evil has been destroyed, but I mourn with God that one of his children, as depraved as he may have been, has died.
My Father-in-law and I had a conversation many years ago about the men who hijacked the four jets in 9/11. He, coming from a strong Presbyterian background and me an Episcopalian. My argument was that up until the moment those jets crashed, the hijackers still had a chance to find Jesus, repent, and be saved. His understanding was that their depravity was too deep: they could never be restored. Ultimately, since they followed through with their plans, he was right, but I can't help but shake the fact that God created human kind in his image.
Our depravity is never so deep that God can't set us free, but it is often too deep for us to look up and see the light. OBL could never see the light, and that grieves God. He was killed by violence, and I think that too grieves God.
As I look within myself at the vast array of emotions I feel this morning: gladness, sadness, relief, worry, excitement, anxiety, and many others, I'm drawn to the words of the prophet Ezekiel. In the eighteenth chapter of his book, while he deals with all types of sin, he writes to the people of Israel (and to me and to you):
21Suppose wicked people stop sinning and start obeying my laws and doing right. They won't be put to death. 22All their sins will be forgiven, and they will live because they did right. 23I, the LORD God, don't like to see wicked people die. I enjoy seeing them turn from their sins and live.
24But when good people start sinning and doing disgusting things, will they live? No! All their good deeds will be forgotten, and they will be put to death because of their sins.
25You people of Israel accuse me of being unfair! But listen--I'm not unfair; you are! 26If good people start doing evil, they must be put to death, because they have sinned. 27And if wicked people start doing right, they will save themselves from punishment. 28They will think about what they've done and stop sinning, and so they won't be put to death. 29But you still say that I am unfair. You are the ones who have done wrong and are unfair! (Ez 18.21-29 CEV)
I pray this day that I don't fall into evil as I react to the death of one who did. I pray this day that I don't fall ito evil as I react to the ways in which others react to OBL's death. Be they causticly overjoyed, smugly self-righteous, or anything in between. May God have mercy on my soul.