Not long after President Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden, Twitter lit up. As you would expect, Christians have played their part, too. One particular way Christians tweeted was using Bible verses to proclaim their feelings on the matter. Christianity Today, the American Evangelical magazine, posted an article on their website that listed data from OpenBible.info that told us what were the most tweeted Bible verses 12 hours after President Obama announced bin Laden’s death.
I admit that I was glad to see that the number one verse was Proverbs 24:17, ‘Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice’ (NIV). Of course there were other verses, too – ones that seem to be quite fine with the rejoicing that the enemy had indeed fallen, but 3 of the top 5 indicated that the death was not a celebration. Still, what does quoting one verse do?
Quoting Bible verses in my environment growing up was nearly a language all its own. It’s how you answered questions when people challenged what you thought and it was what you quoted to prove your case. Usually the surrounding context mattered little. It was easy that way. You could find your preferred texts and use them as an axe to cut down any argument that someone tried to make. They were little clues that formed a picture of your own making.
Since that time, I have learned that quoting verses does not always help, and if we read carefully in the New Testament, we see that Jesus and Paul nuanced how they used scripture. For Jesus, I can point to the gospels where he would begin by saying ‘you have heard it said’ before quoting some part of the Old Testament and then deepening its meaning. Paul could have used any number of scriptures that said eating food sacrificed to idols was wrong, but he takes a very long time to get there and in the end doesn’t exclude it all together! In both cases, Paul and Jesus wanted us to hear more than just what a single verse of scripture might say.
While I am not opposed to quoting scripture, and as a general practice I wish I knew more than I did so I could quote them, I think we also have to look at the full story of where scripture is going. It’s a little more difficult this way, and sometimes I have to give up my preferred verses. It also takes discussion and listening, as unlike quoting a verse it isn’t easily doled out in bite-sized portions. The overarching story of scripture has at it centre what Jesus did for a world that was opposed to him. He came to bring forgiveness, and did it amidst people who were cheering and celebrating his death. He even reached out to a terrorist and converted him so that he could take the gospel to the gentiles.
So, I do understand there are verses that would say it’s perfectly OK to gloat and brag that bin Laden is dead. But, there are other verses that say the opposite. I think we have to go to the overarching story for where the weight lies for those verses. If our central story is that of Jesus and his sacrifice, then I don’t see how we can celebrate the death of another.