Billy Coffey

writer, observer, learner

“Shouldn’t we be sad when even the bad man is killed?”

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The weekday morning routine begins with a cup of coffee and the news, that latter of which is turned off when the kids wake for school. They don’t like the news, they say. And I tell them I don’t like it much either. Those few minutes before our days begin and we are all on the sofa are usually spent watching something else.

But not this morning. This morning was different.

Perhaps I was just lost in the story, my eyes locked on the bold words in all caps at the bottom of the screen—BIN LADEN KILLED BY US FORCES. Or maybe it was the fact that my mind was divided between May of 2011 and September of 2001, leaving no room to ponder the blond-haired little girl who entered and sat beside me. Her eyes were puffed, sleepy. She yawned.

“Who’s bin Laden?” she asked me.

I remembered asking myself that very question almost ten years ago—Who is bin Laden and what has he done and why Jesus, why?—sitting on the edge of my bed in my bathrobe, just sitting there. Staring at burning buildings and soot-covered people who were bleeding and shaking and crying. I knew they were the lucky ones. The ones jumping from the upper floors of the Towers, choosing death by gravity over death by fire, they were the unlucky ones.

“He was a bad man,” I told her.

“Is the bad man dead?”


“Who killed him?”

“Remember those men we see at the beach sometimes?” I asked her. “They killed him.”

She yawned again, a high-pitched, little-girl exhale that ended with, “What did he do that was so bad?”

I saw those soot-covered people again, the bodies falling. I remembered the panic that day, of fear and uncertainty so overcoming it could only be expressed in silence. The little girl beside me was in her mother’s womb then. Sitting on the table beside me were her first ultrasound pictures. I remembered looking at the screen and looking at the pictures and—God help me—wishing she would not be born into such a world. That she would be spared of such evil.

“He killed a lot of people.”

We sat in silence as the people talked on the television, relaying the events, the soldiers involved, the particulars of the raid. When they described the death, my daughter asked, “What’s a double-tap?”

“Nothing,” I said. She was too sleepy to notice my smile.

The picture on the television changed to scenes from the night before. Crowds outside the White House and in Times Square. People chanting and singing and laughing.

She asked, “Why are those people happy?”

“Because the bad man is dead.”

Another yawn, this one smaller. She put her head on my shoulder and I wished it could just stay like that forever, us there and the rest of my family close, the birds singing outside and the sun rising over the mountains.

“Is God happy, too?”

I didn’t know how to answer that. I told her so.

“Are you happy, Daddy?”

“Yes. If I could, I’d shake the hand of the man who killed him.”

She didn’t know how to take that, this little girl, who’s world is small and bright and populated by fairies who alight around her room nightly as she sleeps.

“Shouldn’t we be sad when even the bad man is killed?”

I wondered, my mind divided again between the present and the past, between feeling the little girl’s head on my shoulder and seeing her still-forming head in a grainy picture while the planes fell and the people cried and the whole world seemed to end. I wondered what has become of us since, of those who wish nothing but death on our enemies and those who would rather bow than fight. I wondered of those who believe it wrong that Gandhi should reside in hell, and I wondered if they believe it equally wrong that Osama bin Laden should reside in heaven.

“I don’t know, honey,” I told her.

And I still don’t.

But I know that my daughter will grow up. Her small and bright world of fairies will one day become a big and dark world full of monsters. Monsters like him.

She yawned once more, her hand now in mine. I thought of these words from George Orwell: “We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”

I don’t know if God expects me to be sad, but I know I am not.

And I don’t know if He expects me to make peace with the monsters, but I believe He would rather we fight them.

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  1. I can’t say that I’m sad about bin Laden’s death. He was a monster.

    I’m sad about his fate.

    I’m angry that some people seem to be happy about both.

  2. Billy, I spent about 90 minutes before bedtime last night, asking my fellow believers to not celebrate this event with our “We’re Number One!” finger up in the air, as if our favorite college team just won a championship. As a political conservative, and former soldier, and as a Christian who rejoices at the last-minute conversion of the thief on the cross just to the right of Jesus, I am conflicted regarding just how happy I should be right now.

    But as you rightly point out, it’s not so much my fellow adult believers are handling this news; it’s how my kids are processing it that is my business. It is my job to help them think for themselves, yet guide them, to some extent, in what to think. It’s not an easy place to be. How can I tell them how to think about this when I am not sure how I should think about it? Is God happy? Indeed.

    On another note, my twins were born 9/11, exactly as the planes were crashing into the Twin Towers. I, like you, was wondering what kind of world I was dragging these innocents into. And 9 and a half years later, i am still not sure about that one.

  3. It’s a tough call! On one hand I’m thankful he’s no longer a threat but at the same time, he’s a man lost to Christ. I wish his death meant we would be safer but sadly, I don’t think that’ll be the case and the celebrating that’s being plastered everywhere on every channel is only going to fuel the evil he left behind. On one hand, God sent men into war and battles and you know those armies rejoiced in their victories! The other hand, does God enjoy death and loss of any of his beings?

    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God

  4. Billy, as always…..poignant and simply eloquent. I think you perfectly captured how many of us feel. I am glad for all those who lost loved ones that day, that this “very bad man” is gone, a good day for our country I believe. But I feel bad we have to explain these terrible things to children. I can remember when I myself wondered who Bin Laden was, I wish I were still wondering……..Lori

  5. I just don’t know. I’m glad he’s gone. And I was happy about it when I first saw it. But the more I think about it, the more I don’t know how I feel.

    My oldest was six and a half months old when the towers fell. All he, and his younger sister, know is that a man who killed a lot of people is dead. And for now, that’s enough, I think. But I’m naive, so maybe not.

    Powerful post, Billy.

  6. Not sure how I feel about it… I question it. Buried at sea? sounds rather convenient.
    If he is truly dead… God tells us not to rejoice at the doom of our enemies doesn’t he? He died without Christ and went to an eternal life in hell that will never end.
    God also says vengeance is His, was this his vengeance on those who took innocent lives or is the eternal hell His vengeance? Either way it is in God’s hands.
    Truly, I just feel kinda numb about it. Because it is not an end to our forces being stretched thin overseas. Maybe if there were some finality to it of the war on terror being over I would feel a bit relieved but not particularly “happy”.
    I sat on the edge of the couch watching the second plane hit the building while 9 months pregnant. Praying I would not go into labor on that day. My son was born on the 13th. It was horrible to be in the hospital and have nothing but THAT news coverage running continuously.

  7. Sharon, for the record, I love that fact that my wife went into labor that day. It’s a day that needed some reasons for rejoicing, and there were many reasons to rejoice that day, from stories of heroism to babies being born.

  8. I am sad that Bin Laden chose to do evil. I am sad that he chose to destroy other people in his evil. I would presume that he chose not to repent for his evil, and now suffers the destruction of the wicked, in which (the Bible says) God has no pleasure.

    There is no pleasure to be had in either Bin Laden’s life or death, only relief that he is gone.

    “All that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” ~ Edmund Burke

    I take great pleasure to know that men and women of courage still take a stand against evil, whatever the personal cost.

  9. I believe you have a wise little girl. The Bible says that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He had rather that the wicked repented.
    I am relieved that this man is no longer leading the war of terror. I do however believe there will always be someone ready to fill his shoes.
    I too remember that September morn wondering what was going to become of our beloved country and the way of life as we knew it.
    I thank God for our military men and women who fight to protect our freedom and lives everyday.

  10. Thanks for your post, Billy. I’ve commented elsewhere about my feelings about this and it’s taken the steam out of wanting to say more about my feelings. I will say this…working with Marines and their families, I still remember your post about the SEALS you encountered on the beach and I will never forget that post. It still moves me today.

    Everything in my world is colored by what the last 10 years has done, not only because of what happened that day and what those families have gone through, but because of the consequences that our military and their families pay because of that day. I cannot, no matter what, take back or deny my relief and thankfulness that the man who started this war is gone. Figurehead or not.

  11. It’s an odd mixture of relief and sadness…

  12. I’ve been reading debates amongst my friends (ranging from ultra-liberal friends to ultra-conservative and everywhere in between) about this on Facebook. I don’t know what to say to any of them. I don’t want to get into the debates. So I haven’t said anything. But the fact is: he did very very VERY wrong and he is now dead. When you kill a man bent on killing you, that’s not murder, that’s self-defense.

    I’m relieved. But I’m sad. I hope I never lose my ability to be sad when someone – someone I know or not – who did not know Christ dies. I may not grieve, I may not miss them, but I hope I am always sad. Because that’s one less person who will be in heaven. That’s one person who has lost his last chance to know the one True and Living God, to know salvation through the Blood of Christ.

    Please tell your daughter this: God doesn’t like when people hurt His children. He told His chosen ones to kill the people who hated them in the Old Testament. But He also doesn’t like that they have to die for it. He told them it was necessary, but He also told us in the New Testament that He is not willing that any should perish. So I think God is happy that Bin Laden can’t hurt His children anymore, but He is probably also sad that Bin Laden will never have another chance to change his mind.

  13. Barbara Frazier

    May 3, 2011 at 9:19 am

    Powerful post Billy and what a thinker that daughter of yours is! I feel like justice was served and I am proud of the Seals. But, I can’t help think about OBL’s family. I don’t know what kind of people they are or what they thought of his actions, he was still their loved one. The thought even went thru my mind of how he must have felt when he saw his son killed. I hope this will help give some closure to the people that lost loved ones on September 11th. I pray that we will never have to live thru something like that again!

  14. Reminds me of one of your old posts about 9/11- Monster. My kids also wondered what the big deal was. And like you, I couldn’t answer most questions. I’m grateful they are young enough that 9/11 will be a lesson in the history books and OBL just a footnote. I doubt they’ll remember watching this on the news. At least, I hope so.

  15. We had this discussion over at my mom’s blog yesterday,
    And my son and I had this same type of conversation yesterday as well to which my answer to him was that I am happy that the evil has been taken care of but that as a Christian I shouldn’t be happy that a man without Christ is dead. Yes, he made his choice and yes, he was evil, but I am trying to work my way to 100% truth in what I told my son. Not that I don’t’ believe that what I told him is true, but that I am happy Osama is dead and I am at a place that I think I need to separate the happy the evil is gone with the sad that a non-believer died. it’s a fine a line for me.

  16. Is God happy when the unrighteous perish?

    I know this — he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should have eternal life. So, in a way, he’s sad that Osama did not repent…

  17. Billy-boy, I am in agreement with the others. I wrote this on a Christian writers’ forum and it’s still my answer…I agree that, while we, as Christians, mourn the loss of a soul not saved by Grace, we can, at the same time, be pleased that a vessel of evil has been removed from the earth.

  18. Am I happy he is dead? Yes, he deserved to be taken out for his crimes. However, who is next? When one evil person is removed, it seems others (more than one) are ready to step up to take his place. We see this happen when we have an election here in the USA. We rally and wave banners, shout for our candidate, and trust that our person will do a better job than the last one. They seldom do better and again we are disenchanted as they seem now to be as evil as their predecessor was claimed to be. God help us and, Please God, Save America.

  19. Billy, I think this may be the most honest response to what happened that I have read. I appreciate that you are at some measure of peace with your reaction to this historic event being somewhere between the middle of those who require that we either must be jubilant or must wear sackcloth and ashes. It is exactly the way I have felt since Sunday night. Bravo for this commentary, and amen.

  20. I appreciate your honest take on this –an approach that doesn’t resort to platitudes.

    It’s just a complicated thing, very complicated.

    I think the best response — the one God expects of us — is humility. I’ve been so bothered by the fact that the so-called rejoicing has turned to prideful gloating.

    Thank you, Billy, for sharing your thoughts.

  21. We should not celebrate the death of another person – that’s what I feel. What right do we have to judge another person? Afterall who is spotfree to do that? Not a single human being! The death of one person does not mean the end of all evil.

  22. While I am relieved for my family, friends and myself that they finally got him, I am somehow saddened to think that even one person, even as evil as he was, ended up in hell, and how dark his life must have been to get to the point of doing the things he has done. And, I am sad for his children that had to see him killed. I am concerned that in the celebration, we may be encouraging even more hate against us.

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