Theological Limbo?

     This is a term a friend, Anne Rogers, coined Monday in a conversation we were having regarding the death of Osama Bin Laden. Like most people, when I awoke and turned on the news I sat glued to the screen. I couldn't believe what I saw. I turned to the internet and was stunned by what I read. 

     9 1/2 years ago in a horrific hour where time stood still our sense of safety and isolation was completely shattered. An act of terrorism, a magnitude never before seen in any other country, had been committed on American soil. Anyone alive and well on that day remembers where they were and what they were doing when the towers came falling down in front of our eyes on national television and then the plane crash in a field in Pennsylvania and another into the Pentagon in Washington, DC. Horrifying moments played out over and over in the days and weeks following as we learned, many for the very first time, that a small group of extremists in the country of Afghanistan hated the United States and all we stood for so much they felt they had to do everything within their power to inflict harm on innocent lives. 

            The morning news proudly announced the death of Osama Bin Laden and panned the crowds around the country gathering to cheer this military triumph while chanting, “USA!” Throughout it all I felt more numb and stunned rather than elated. I spent a great deal of time trying to sort out what, exactly, I felt about the entire ordeal. “Uniquely-strange” was the best adjective I could conjure at that moment. I posted on Facebook, “I could not celebrate, nor could I mourn this event.”  I wondered how people reacted to Hitler’s death. Turns out, they reacted in much the same way. Nancy Jo Kemper, a minister-friend in Versailles, KY, pointed out a bit of what she called calendar-coincidence—Hitler died May 1, 1945. I didn’t know what to feel with this death. I spent a great deal of the day in reflection. I finally realized the conundrum I faced was because all the ‘norms’ associated with death could not apply in this instance.

            We, as Christians, maintain certain understandings regarding death. We mourn the loss of life. We celebrate the life that was lived and the contributions the person brought to our experiences. And, occasionally, we might celebrate the fact that someone who was suffering can now find peace. We celebrate the fact that the one we knew now has the promise of everlasting life through the grace of God fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The death of an international terrorist responsible for the loss of thousands of: fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters, sons, daughters, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, husbands, wives, friends, neighbors and strangers leaves us no room to feel the ‘normal’ emotions associated with death, so we are left with ‘theological limbo’ and wondering what we are to do with this strange emotion.

Another ministerial friend of mine, Julie Richardson Brown, said it best in her blog:

I’m glad Osama bin Laden is gone.  There are in this world forces evil enough to warrant eradication.  And while I wish–and I really do–that he could have truly been brought to justice through some sort of custody and trial process, I have no answers for how that would have played out, and recognize it would have held complications all its own–and so all I know to do is acknowledge that there is an undeniable sense of relief at knowing he is no longer able to live out the sort of hate he lived by.  I don’t know that his death makes anything better or solves any problems–in fact I’m pretty sure it doesn’t–but, still….

And, even as I make my confession above, I do so giving thanks that God’s grace is, truly, sufficient–because clearly mine is not.  And in the depths of my soul, I believe that God loves Osama bin Laden–and so grieves the horror of his life and his death as only God can do.

…And so what I really wish is that the kind of crazy hatred that festered and burned in Osama bin Laden’s heart was not only no more, but had never been.  Anywhere.  At any time.  What I really find myself thinking about today is that this way we continue to breed division, spawn hate, do violence and cast aside those we deem as not mattering cannot possibly be what God meant for us.  What I really wonder is if we’ll ever discover what it might mean to live–all of us–in the light and love and all-consuming grace that is ours simply by having been breathed into life by a force of goodness more powerful than any evil could ever be.

I’ve no use for chants of riotous glee and celebration over this.  Nor do I have any use for a sort of self-righteous talk about forgiveness that leaves no room for the honest sense of relief I feel (and I know I’m not alone in this).  What I am left with is the aching feeling that this world–that we–are so far from what God has called us to be.  And a longing to find a way past all the ways we shut one another out and into a wholeness greater than any of us has ever known.


Julie also quotes John Lennon so aptly…”you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you will join us, and the world will live as one…”


Join me in dreaming for a better world tomorrow…