The chants and cheers echoed in college bars, sports stadiums, and public streets across the country. Terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was dead from two bullets through the head, courtesy of our finest soldiers, the Navy Seals.
President Obama spoke of Bin Laden getting what he “deserved.” And one New York Times columnist captured the feelings of many citizens when she declared her joy at Bin Laden’s death, because she wanted “memory, and justice, and revenge.”
Since the raid that killed Bin Laden, his death has been a continued hot topic for debate among columnists, political leaders, and ordinary citizens. I’ve heard callers to radio talk shows make comments like these:
On the one hand: “Was it right for us to shoot Bin laden? He was unarmed!” And on the other: “They should have cut off his fingers, one by one, and tortured him first!”
Parents face important questions from their children: Was it right to kill him? Should we celebrate? Why or Why Not?
For some, these are tough questions – and they are complicated by the times in which we live.
We are at war against a formidable enemy. We face the continual threat of death-dealing terrorism, both here and abroad. And too many of our own courageous soldiers and helpless civilians have already been killed. We abhor the violence that claimed them even as we admire their bravery in defense of our freedom.
At the same time, our popular culture seems to be feeding its appetite for random violence and cruel killings. Revenge-taking, torture, and hurting others for the sake of the perpetrator’s amusement are common themes in the entertainment world of video games, TV dramas, music videos, and even reality shows. And in this morally relativistic climate, few are willing to say that’s wrong.
As parents, we need to help our children see the difference between self-defense and gratuitous violence—and between justice and hate-fueled revenge.
How to Save Your Family: Teach Justice, Not Revenge
Bin Laden was brought to justice on this Earth – and true justice is a moral virtue. Our children should have no doubt about that. And if ever there was a “teachable moment” on the difference between justice and revenge, this is it.
Killing is often necessary as a matter of justice—to pay a societal penalty for an irreversible act of violence; to protect and defend innocent people. And in times of war, incisive actions are often required in ways that have no place in ordinary criminal prosecutions. We should honor and praise the bravery of those in uniform who risked their lives to protect people around the world from a mass murderer.
Revenge is a cheap and inferior substitute to justice when it is delivered by human beings. It reflects a heart’s desire to make another person suffer, and delights in misery and pain. And it knows few limits in the misery and suffering it is willing to deliver.
Revenge is a prideful, selfish obsession in which the person assumes he or she actually has the personal power to right a wrong. The truth is, only God can right some wrongs.
Ultimately, the hateful spirit of human revenge deforms the soul of the person who carries it in his heart. And obsessive revenge actually allows the perpetrator of the wrong to take full control of the life, thought, emotions and hearts of those who despise him.
Bin Laden is dead and people around the world are safer for it. Human justice was served, but it will never bring back the innocent or heal the hearts of their loved ones who suffered at Bin Laden’s evil hands.
Let’s teach our children to reject the spirit of hateful revenge that destroys us, and rest in the fact that God’s justice does not end with this end of life as we know it. Let’s emblazon Romans 12:19 on our hearts:
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’"