Memory Monday: What to Do With Our Enemies? (Matthew 5:43-45)

I fully intended to start this week with the first blog in a series on getting ready for summer. However, I woke up this morning to scenes of people celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden. It reminds me much of the Munchkin celebration in the Wizard of Oz -- "Ding, Dong. The witch is dead." As I watched, it struck me that this situation is incredibly confusing for our kids, many of whom weren't born or have no memories of Sept. 11. To them it's an historical event -- not one that changed their worlds.

I'll admit that when the news came out last night that bin Laden was dead, a part of me cheered. It's a natural human emotion to feel vindicated that this man who caused so much pain and chaos in our world finally reaped the consequences of his actions. Yet, another part of me felt sad that there are people in this world who are so deluded about their religious beliefs that they believe that killing other people is a part of their calling.

If I was in a dither about how to feel and what a Christ-like reaction to this news would be, how much more confusing is this situation to our children? Many of our kids don't remember 9-11. They don't remember the horror of watching those towers fall and knowing that thousands of people were still inside. They don't remember the heroism of the men and women on United 93. They don't have scenes of smoke rising from a gaping hole in the Pentagon etched in their minds. In short, they don't even have the context that we have for the events of this morning.

So, how do we explain the celebrations in the street over the death of a man who hated America? How do we reconcile that with Jesus' command to love our enemies?

Honestly, I'm not really sure. I can only tell you what I'll be telling my kids this morning and maybe that will help you with your kids.

  • If you have really young kids, keep the explanation simple. Tell them bin Laden had done some bad things and he was killed as part of a war. Remind your kids that God loves everyone, even those who do what we consider really bad things. But some sins have bigger earthly consequences, and in this case, that consequence was death.
  • For older kids, start with a short discussion of the events of 9-11. Your kids have probably been exposed to some of it at school. Give them some context for who Osama bin Laden was.
  • Talk with them about why some people would think his death is a cause for celebration. Explain how you feel about bin Laden's death -- whether it's relief or vindication or even joy. Let them know that it's tough to know how to feel about the situation.
  • Read and memorize Matthew 5:43-45: "You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven." Jesus calls us to love our enemies and even pray for them. Set an example of this for your kids by praying with them for bin Laden's followers. Pray that those people would have their hearts turned toward God and away from murder and destruction.
  • Explain to your kids that even though we are called to love our enemies, sin has its consequences. Bin Laden was the leader of a group that attacked the United States, with whom we are currently at war. The consequences of the choices that bin Laden made were that he would be a target of the U.S. as it fought this war.
  • Talk about how it's hard to reconcile the command to love your enemies with the need to capture bin Laden. Be sure to point out to your kids that by all accounts, our military gave bin Laden the chance to surrender before killing him. In that moment, he made another choice that had its consequences -- death. Bin Laden turned his heart away from God and made killing and destroying others his purpose. That purpose, which is opposed to God's commands, led to bin Laden's death.
  • Bring the conversation down to a level to which your kids can relate. Talk about how they should treat the people that they don't get along wiith. Remind them that God wants them to love and pray even for those who mistreat them. What a great thing it would have been if bin Laden had turned to God instead of creating destruction and mayhem. Praying for their enemies allows your kids to not be eaten up with hatred or yearning for vengeance.

As you deal with these tough issues with your kids, don't forget to ask God for wisdom. There are no easy answers for the questions your kids might ask about the situation. Let your kids lead the conversation and give them the wisdom they need to guide them through the tricky waters of this current event.