A lot has been made lately over the death of one man. He was a man who took his own religion very seriously but believed that many had compromised the very essence of its character in order to accommodate a foreign power that promised wealth in one hand while the other hand held the threat of terrible military strength—the greatest military strength of its time. Because of his belief that his religion had forsaken its pure roots, he sought to rally its adherents to a new form of the faith that was actually quite ancient in its character but radical in its threat to those sitting in palaces and marketplaces.
He frustrated those in power because he opposed them but refused to fight them on their terms by using traditional military tactics. Though he was considered dangerous, he was hard to kill because he had a large measure of popular support among many of the common people living on the dusty paths of near-poverty. He was hailed as a savior by many of them, who took in his words as if they were drops of water in the thirsty land in which they lived.
But his radical teachings turned off as many as they attracted. Even his family questioned his sanity, especially when he left the comforts of home to travel the dusty paths of the Middle East. He became itinerant, homeless, and scorned. After a while he lost popular support, and even those in his closest circle began to wonder where he was leading them. Some started to wander in their loyalty to him. He himself knew that one day the powerful would catch up to him and he would be killed by them. He accepted it its eventuality as well as its necessity.
When it finally came, it was almost anticlimactic. Former supporters saw it as necessary. Some mourned it. It left his followers scattered and confused, not willing to give in or give up but not quite sure what to do next.
Many people celebrated his death, but most realized that no matter how significant it was, it was just one more death among many that came before and many that would come after before the world was truly a peaceful place. For some it signified the defeat of evil in the world, though that seems to attach too much significance to one man’s life and one man’s death, not to mention that it seems to be an overly-optimistic view of the world and an underestimation of the power of evil.
Nonetheless, they are right. The death of this one man signifies the death of evil. The serpent is still destructive as it thrashes about in its death-throes, giving it the illusion of still having great power, but these are still the thrashings of death-throes as the life slowly seeps out. The end is sure, even if we’re not sure when the last quivers of life will finally be stilled.
The death of Osama bin Laden has come. Some have celebrated as if their team had just won the Super Bowl. Some have seen it as necessary, but feel throwing a party is unseemly. Some have said that it is largely symbolic in that he was no longer in a position to give much leadership to Al Qaeda. Some say that he was the head, and that in cutting off the head the body will wither in disarray. Some have said that he will be hailed as a martyr, and terrorism will continue on as before, if not worse.
Most curious to me have been those who see in his death the defeat of evil. Because I was in my forties when bin Laden became a household name in America, I’ve not attached that kind of symbolism to him. He was just a guy, a man, flesh and blood like everyone else. But for those who were children when 9-11 occurred, whose childhoods and now young adulthoods have been filled with images of planes hitting buildings and two simultaneous desert wars, who grew up thinking it normal to have their backpacks searched every time they visited a museum, bin Laden was the ultimate Boogey-Man. As one Millennial in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post put it, “Osama is our Voldemort. He’s our Emperor Palpatine. He is the Face of Evil, a mythical holdover from when we were too young to realize that evil has no face…. He was the dragon that lurks at the end of the final corridor. And we got him.”
OK, I get it. The Ewoks get to celebrate when the emperor of the evil Galactic Empire is defeated.
But this isn’t Star Wars, and life isn’t a video game. Bin Laden was a man who did some very bad, even evil things. But he was just a man, and his death, significant though one might find it, doesn’t mean the destruction of Evil, no more than Hitler’s death or Stalin’s or Pol Pot’s or Atttila the Hun’s or whoever. There is only one man’s death that could be that significant, that cosmos-altering.
We just celebrated his death and resurrection a couple of weeks ago. Rather than the death of pure evil, his was the death of pure unconditional love. And his resurrection proved that pure unconditional love can’t stay dead. Try to kill it, bury it in some tomb, it keeps coming back.
Evil tried to kill Love, and instead sealed its own fate.
One man’s death indeed signaled the defeat of Evil, but that man wasn’t Osama bin Laden.
It was and is Jesus.